By Francis Kwera
KAMPALA, March 7 (Reuters) – Uganda cannot fulfil its offer to completely take over the peacekeeping mission in Somalia because nobody has come up with the money, the defence minister said on Friday.
Uganda was the first of two countries to deploy soldiers as part of an African Union mission to Somalia, torn by fighting between the interim government and Islamist insurgents.
The African Union is supposed to pay for the force, but depends on funding from members and is short of cash. Uganda has said it could supply all 8,000 troops needed if the force is given a U.N. mandate, which would let Uganda tap a bigger pool of funding, but that has not yet happened.
« We are ready to start deployments in Somalia but we have a funding problem, » Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga said in an interview with Reuters. « There is no money to transport and maintain peacekeeping troops in Somalia as promised. »
The insurgency in Somalia has killed at least 6,500 people and forced some 600,000 to flee the capital, Mogadishu.
Uganda was the first African country to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia early last year, followed by Burundi. Burundi has sent around 600 troops, while Uganda has about 1,600 in place.
Malawi, Nigeria, Mozambique and Ghana withdrew their troop pledges, citing security reasons.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in January on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Ethiopia, where Ban expressed concern that few African countries had fulfilled pledges to contribute to the force.
Ban is due to issue a report on peacekeeping prospects in Somalia on Monday.
The insurgency in Mogadishu is led by remnants of a hardline Islamist group driven from power a year ago in a lightning offensive by Somalia’s interim government and its Ethiopian military backers. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Bryson Hull)