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Briefly: Africa

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SOMALIA

U.N. increases troops by 50 percent

UNITED NATIONS | Moving to better protect Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed government from armed opposition groups, the Security Council unanimously agreed Wednesday to increase the peacekeeping force there by 50 percent, from 8,000 to 12,000 troops.

Council members also authorized the African Union to extend its deployment of the peacekeeping force known as AMISOM through Sept. 30, calling the move "vital for the long-term stability of Somalia."

Uganda said it would contribute the additional 4,000 troops.

The resolution approved by council members said the extended deployment and the troop increase are necessary to support Somalia's so-called Transitional Federal Government and civilians from attacks by al-Shabab and other opposition groups.

Al-Shabab and the other largest armed group in the country, Hizbul Islam, announced in recent days they would drop their feud and merge forces to concentrate on fighting the Mogadishu-based government and the African Union troops who protect it.

Al-Shabab has publicly pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and counts several hundred foreign fighters in its ranks.

Considered Somalia's most dangerous armed group, al-Shabab practices a harsh, conservative brand of Islam that bans television and movies. Its punishments include the chopping off of hands of thieves and death by stoning of adulterers.

KENYA

Lawmakers being probed for drug trafficking

NAIROBI | Kenyan police are investigating at least four members of parliament over allegations they are involved in drug trafficking, internal security minister George Saitoti said Wednesday.

He told parliament that police were investigating Deputy Cabinet Minister Harun Mwau, Gideon Mbuvi, William Kabogo and Hassan Joho in connection with alleged involvement in the drug trade.

"There are serious investigations under way ... none of the persons mentioned is guilty until they have been properly investigated and there is evidence," said Mr. Saitoti, who is minister for internal security and provincial administration.

Mr. Saitoti then named the four men, three of whom were present. Mr. Mbuvi, Mr. Kabogo and Mr. Joho said they were not guilty of any charges related to the drug trade.

Four senior Kenyan government officials and a businessman have been permanently banned from traveling to the United States over allegations of trafficking narcotics, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya said last month.

Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, who did not name them, said the United States would help East Africa's biggest economy in its fight against drugs.

SUDAN

Party to form opposition group

KHARTOUM | South Sudan's main party said it would form a separate opposition group in the north if the country split in two after a referendum next month, and would seek support from marginalized people, even Darfur rebels.

People from Sudan's oil-producing south are widely expected to vote to split away to form Africa's newest nation in a referendum scheduled to take place on Jan. 9.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a former southern rebel group, is the ruling party in south Sudan and is overall the country's second largest party.

The SPLM also has supporters in the north, particularly in the border regions of Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains area of Southern Kordofan.

Senior SPLM member Yasir Arman told reporters on Wednesday the party's northern sector would become an independent organization in the north as soon as the south became a separate country.

"It is going to be a political force to be reckoned with. ... The north is a very diverse place. It is a place that needs democratic transformation. It is a place that needs different policies from Khartoum to the different regions of Sudan," Mr. Arman said.

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