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Uganda suspends rotation of its troops in Somalia

By Staff reporter , Garowe Online

KAMPALA, Uganda - The Uganda People's Defense Forces [UPDF] suspended rotation of its troops in Somalia on Saturday, a top official said, barely a week after one soldier tested positive for COVID-19.

Brig. Richard Karemire said the decision to suspend rotation is one of "critical" measures in curbing the spread of COVID-19, which has ravaged the war-torn nation, causing fears among stakeholders and residents.

"It is one of the safety measures against COVID-19 taken in respect of UPDF troops deployed abroad in Somalia and Equatorial Guinea," said Karemire, although he did not specify the duration that order will take before being lifted.

Uganda is one of the Africa Union Mission in Somalia [AMISOM] contributing member and currently, it has over 6,000 troops of 22,000 in Somalia. But the troops are exchanged after a certain period, allowing those who have served to take a rest at home.

The latest decision, Karemire added: "It's normal because we don't want the disease to spread amongst our gallant UPDF troops. Their safety is more important than anything, this is what forced us to make that declaration."

Last week, a soldier in one of the battalions tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the UPDF to swiftly quarantine nine others who had reportedly come into contact with the victim. He was stationed in the outskirts of Mogadishu, reports indicate.

"It's truly one of our UPDF soldiers serving under the African Union Mission to Somalia tested positive for coronavirus. This virus has not spared Somalia like any other country," Brig Karemire told Daily Monitor, adding that the soldier is in stable condition and being managed by medical workers in Mogadishu.

“We have a medical team that's handling him at level two hospital in Mogadishu and so there's no need to be very worried. We're sure he will pull through,” he added.

As of Saturday, Somalia had recorded 671 COVID-19 positive cases, a sharp spike within just a month, further putting the government and partners at an awkward position in a bid to curb the spread. Already, 31 people have died with only 34 recoveries recorded, officials said.

But Omar Filish, the Mogadishu mayor, sensationally claimed that "our people are dying in numbers, something must be done". Last week, the firebrand politician claimed that 500 people have died in Mogadishu in the last two weeks, although he did not directly attribute them to COVID-19.

Despite the current Coronavirus uncertainty, the peacekeeping troops have been actively engaged in the fight against Al-Shabaab militants, who have refused to embrace ceasefire as pleaded by UN boss Antonio Guterres.

Last week, UPDF troops foiled a would-be deadly attack by the Al-Qaida linked group in Lower Shebelle, when they detonated two cars laden with VBIEDs, within Barawe airport and a nearby army base, Karemire had said.

The attack is believed to be a retaliatory attack against UPDF, which played an integral role in Al-Shabaab defeat at Janaale, a strategic town within Southwest, which fell to Somali National Army [SNA] and allied forces in March.

UPDF's decision to halt rotation now means the troops currently in Somalia could stay for several months, including up to the time when AMISOM is expected to withdraw. Already, the mission has tentatively scheduled 2021 for formal withdrawal.

Kampala has recorded only 82 COVID-19 positive cases, of which almost 50 have since recovered. President Yoweri Museveni imposed a lockdown across the country which has significantly helped to combat possible spread across the nation.