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Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham talks to BBC Radio 4 while attending the African Union Summit in Uganda.
Henry Bellingham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office: I welcome the fact that [Somalia] is the key issue at the conference, but I hope very much that what they will do is they will endorse the increase in the number of troops in Amisom… but the point is there’s got to be a solution that’s created by the frontline countries: it can’t be the international community moving in, forcing a solution on Somalia; it’s got to be the frontline countries that are going to drive this.
Will Ross, reporter: Sure, and we’re here in Uganda; obviously, just recently, these terrible bombings; you can understand why people here would be angry and President Museveni would be angry. But he seems very keen to not only put in more troops but also go on the offensive against al-Shabab and he’s, you know, using the kind of language he often uses as a military man - ‘‘we’re going to go crush them’’, that kind of language. Does that worry you at all, that this could become a much more deadly war with far more civilian casualties?
HB: First of all, we can understand the reaction of the Ugandan people and the Ugandan administration to those bombs because we had the same thing that happened in London five years ago so we can empathise with what’s happened. It was an absolute appalling blow with a lot of citizens killed, from countries like Eritrea, from countries like Kenya; there was one American killed. And we’re obviously doing all we possibly can to help the Ugandan government in finding the culprits, in providing them with intelligence and with policing support on the ground, and we’re doing all we possibly can to work with them to help the investigations. Now, obviously one of the responses to these al-Shabab attacks - it’s the first that al-Shabab has launched terrorist attacks outside of Somalia itself - is to increase for numbers of forces in Amisom, to make sure that Amisom is a force that’s better paid, better equipped and also works closely with the TFG forces as well, because there hasn’t been a great deal of coordination between the two forces hitherto.
WR: If the majority of the troops were to come from Uganda, which looks likely at the moment…
HB: Yes. Yes.
WR: …this is really seen as a Christian country and some fear that the hardliners in Somalia will see this as a, sort of, boosting, a foreign invasion, and that might cause more Jihadists from around the world - perhaps from Britain, America, other countries - to think ‘let’s go and help al-Shabab’.
HB: I think one of the positive aspects of this conference here at the AU is the extent to which other African countries have realised that Somalia is not just a problem for the Horn of Africa but a problem for the whole of Africa. And I have detected a willingness on the part of other countries to contribute to Amisom…
WR: They make lots of promises, don’t they?
HB: Well, I think the time has now come, and I think that what the horrendous bombs have shown is that this is a problem that really does need a coordinated approach from the entire AU. I believe there will be offers of more support, and if it’s a completely… a genuine AU force in Amisom, then I think there’s much more chance of avoiding exactly the sort of criticism that you’ve just made about it being a predominately Christian army in a Muslim country.
Evan Davis, presenter: Will Ross there, speaking to Henry Bellingham, the UK’s Minister for Africa.