KAMPALA, Uganda — Guinea has agreed to send hundreds of troops to Somalia to bolster the African Union’s peacekeeping force in the country after Somali insurgents claimed responsibility for bombings in Uganda during the World Cup final that killed 76 people.
The announcement, made on Friday, came during the 15th African Union summit meeting in Kampala, the normally peaceful Ugandan capital, which was deeply shaken by the attacks on July 11.
More than 50 heads of state are expected to attend the meeting, whose theme is maternal and child health and development in Africa. But the attacks have threatened to overshadow the gathering, and the troop announcement offered an early indication of how the African Union intended to respond to the deadliest strike by Somali insurgents on a neighboring country.
The troops from Guinea — a battalion in all — are expected to join a separate force from Djibouti, making for the mission’s first deployments from predominantly Muslim countries. Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, called the new troops a “major boost” for the peacekeeping force in Somalia, and said it could push the number of soldiers on the ground to close to 10,000.
The Shabab, Islamist insurgents who control much of Somalia, said the World Cup attacks in Kampala were retaliation for the involvement of Ugandan troops as the backbone of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. The peacekeeping mission has been there since 2007, helping to prop up a Western-backed transitional government that would almost certainly fall without the outside support.
The insurgents have been enforcing their harsh version of Islam in Somalia — banning music, bras and soccer — and have been fanning a religious war against the peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, two predominantly Christian nations.
The Shabab have at times called the peacekeepers infidels, and accuse the Ugandan troops of committing crimes against Somali civilians. The African Union has been widely criticized as shelling residential areas indiscriminately.
Since Guinea and Djibouti are predominantly Muslim nations, the choice to send their troops to Somalia may have been an attempt to help neutralize tension.
“We welcome them,” said Felix Kuliagye, a Ugandan military spokesman. “Religion plays a key in acceptability.”
The African Union summit meeting in Kampala is still officially supposed to focus on maternal health and public policy. African Union member states pledged in 2001 to increase health care spending to 15 percent of their national budgets, but this year only three countries are expected to meet that goal, according to public health advocates.
Activists are using the attention of the meeting in Kampala to voice their concerns by staging mock debates, perhaps the first at an African Union summit meeting and a testament to the region’s passionate and creative civil society.
But in this city, now besieged by security forces, the original focus of the conference may be lost.
“We are calling on leaders to be serious this time,” said Beatrice Were, a South African public health advocate. “Look at how they react to the terrorist attacks here in Kampala. Our leaders should act the same way towards AIDS.”