ABUJA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - A battalion of Nigerian soldiers is expected to leave for Somalia in the next two weeks to join a planned African peacekeeping force in that country, Nigeria's Defence Minister said on Wednesday.
The African Union has proposed sending about 8,000 peacekeepers to Somalia to bolster the interim government after Ethiopian troops complete their pull out from the chaotic country.
Defence Minister Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi said the Nigerian battalion, which normally contains between 770 and 1,000 troops, is already undergoing training and waiting for supplies and logistics to move into Somalia.
"One battalion is what we are preparing to move immediately for the peacekeeping mission and we hope that within the next two weeks, they will move," Aguiyi-Ironsi told Reuters after a cabinet meeting in Abuja.
The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday backed the speedy deployment of an African force in Somalia, which has not known peace for 15 years.
Rwanda-Somalia: President seeks Kigali's help to foster reconciliation
Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf is on a visit to Rwanda to learn from that country's experience in national reconciliation and reconstruction and to discuss Rwanda's possible intervention to stop the cycle of violence in the Horn of Africa country, which has been in a state of civil war since 1991.
At a press briefing on Tuesday in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, Yusuf, who was flanked by his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagamé, said the time had come for Somalia to seek the advice and intervention of other countries in the region to help Somalia in its peacekeeping process and reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.
During a visit to the memorial museum of genocide on the Gisozi hill near Kigali, where 200,000 victims of the 1994 genocide are buried, Yusuf said Somali people could have a lot in common with Rwandans, especially the fact that both countries had experienced years of civil war and fratricidal conflicts.
He said conflict in his country had a potentially injurious effect on the region's security, saying each country in eastern Africa and the Horn should "feel concerned by this possible instability in order to restore peace and reconciliation among the Somali people.
"We believe our concerns have been understood by Rwandan officials and other neighbouring countries, and we feel now that in the near future, Somalia will start a new era of peace, reconstruction and reconciliation after 15 years of violence," he added.
Yusuf's remarks followed an indication by the Rwandan government that it was committed to assisting Somalia. However, Rwanda has not made a decision on whether or not to send its troops on a peacekeeping mission to Somalia.
In December, Ethiopian troops backed Somalia's Transitional Federal Government to oust the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and most of southern Somalia, since June 2006.
"From its experience in the years after the genocide of 1994, Rwanda as a country has made progress in national reconciliation and reconstruction. There are many aspects where this [country] can serve us as a model and adviser to enable us to go beyond the tragedy of the past years and build hope for the future," Yusuf said.