South Sudan offers Somalia African Union troops

AU troops in Mogadishu (archive shot)
Image caption The African Union force in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, is over stretched

South Sudan has offered to send African Union troops to Somalia to back the weak interim government.

South Sudan, which became independent on 9 July, made the offer on the day it joined the African Union (AU).

The AU has 9,000 troops in Somalia, but it says it needs up to 20,000 soldiers to repel the Islamist group, al-Shabab.

Deng Alor Kuol, South Sudan's foreign affairs minister, said the new state was prepared to bolster the force to show its commitment to peace in Africa.

"It is part of our responsibility to help our Somali brothers and sisters to achieve peace," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"We, as Africans, must be in the lead to alleviate problems before we ask the Western world, or anyone else, to come and help us."

Modern army?

Offering troops to international peacekeeping missions can be a good way of earning foreign currency for some countries.

The BBC's James Copnall in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, says an estimated 180,000 former rebel and militia fighters now make up South Sudan's army.

But he says there is a lot of work to be done to change the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) into a disciplined modern army and human rights groups often accuse its soldiers of abuses.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, while a famine has gripped parts of the country since June.

Al-Shabab - which is fighting for Islamic rule and has links to al-Qaeda - controls large swathes of south and central Somalia - including regions worst affected by the drought.

Earlier this month, it said its forces were making a tactical retreat from the capital, Mogadishu.

Afterwards, the AU force commander in Somalia, Maj Gen Fred Mugisha, appealed for an immediate deployment of 3,000 extra troops.

Last year, the UN Security Council approved a 12,000-strong AU force for Somalia, although the AU said it needed 20,000 troops.

Several African countries, including Nigeria and Malawi, have failed to fulfil promises to send troops because they fear being dragged into the long-running conflict.

All the current troops are from Uganda and Burundi.

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