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Somalia erupts into Uganda election campaign

Deadly bombings in Kampala have invited Somalia into Uganda's election campaign, with veteran President Yoweri Museveni vowing to go for broke and his political rivals warning against adventurism.

world Updated: Jul 16, 2010 21:00 IST

Deadly bombings in Kampala have invited Somalia into Uganda's election campaign, with veteran President Yoweri Museveni vowing to go for broke and his political rivals warning against adventurism.

Somalia's Al Qaeda linked Shebab group claimed responsibility for the bombings that left at least 73 dead, saying that the attacks were retaliation for Uganda's troop deployment as part of an African Union force in Mogadishu.

"The results of military adventurism can have consequences that can be horrible for everybody," Kizza Besigye, who is expected to challenge Museveni for the third time in the February 2011 vote, told AFP.

"I have been opposed to this thing from the beginning," Besigye said, when asked about the AU force AMISOM, to which Uganda became the first contributor in early 2007.

He argued that sending troops to prop up an administration -- Somalia's transitional federal government -- that has no control over its own country was untenable.

The head of Uganda's Conservative Party, John Ken Lukyamuzi, also posited that AMISOM was fighting a losing battle against the insurgency and told AFP that Uganda's more than 3,000 troops should be "withdrawn immediately".

Besigye charged that Museveni was making a habit of reckless cross-border military interventions decided without consulting the public.

He offered as an earlier example Uganda's support for independence fighters in south Sudan, which prompted Khartoum to back the Lord's Resistance Army rebels who killed and kidnapped tens of thousands in northern Uganda.

"Regardless of the merits of each individual conflict, the issue is disregarding the input of parliament and therefore the Ugandan people," he said.

Uganda's parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Museveni's ruling party, did sign off on the Somalia deployment but opposition parties said a debate never took place.

"There was no consultation with lawmakers," Lukyamuzi said. "Government manipulated the process."

Bibandi Ssali, who served in Museveni's cabinet for more than ten years and plans to challenge for the presidency in the upcoming polls, was circumspect but also said Uganda's should adopt a "more considered approach".

Yet Museveni, who warned before sending his troops in 2007 that the Somali rebels' jihad would be met with "black jihad", was in equally bellicose mood following the Kampala bombings and called for the Shebab's "elimination".

"We were just in Mogadishu to guard the port, the airport and the State House. Now they have mobilised us to look for them," he said on Wednesday.

"We are going to go on the offensive for all those who did this."

A Ugandan expert on regional security said the Ugandan government would not waver in Somalia because of domestic political pressure and argued that the attacks were likely to draw a more aggressive approach from Kampala.

"Even without this incident, there was already a move for a surge in Mogadishu," Angelo Izama of Kampala's Fanaka Kwa Wote think tank told AFP.

"I don't think these attacks detract from that movement. The underlying question is, How do you end the threat level?' The broad answer is changing the status quo in Somalia."

Speaking on a Kampala radio earlier this week, Ugandan Deputy Foreign Minister Okello Oryem indicated Kampala was not concerned about a mass demand from voters to withdraw from Mogadishu.

"We have insisted all along this year that we want the mandate changed" to allow Ugandans to launch offensive attacks against the insurgents, Oryem told the KFM radio station.

"In light of recent events, we are going to insist more than before."

Oryem predicted that, rather than denting Museveni's waning popularity, the Kampala attacks could spur a diplomatic push turning him into the region's champion.

"The Shebab might have made a great mistake by what they did here," he said. "Now you might see a change in the countries that have been opposed to our view."