Ethiopian troops in Somalia will secure the safe exit of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops in the country before eventually pulling out at the end of this year, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said.
The Ethiopian troops would, however, stay close by to monitor the activities of the dreaded Somali insurgent group, the Al Shabab, which has engaged the government troops there on ground battles for the past two months.
Prime Minister Zenawi, who addressed the Ethiopian security mission in Somalia Thursday, said Burundian and Ugandan troops had asked the Ethiopian government to ensure their safe exit before they eventually leave.
“The African Union, Burundi and Uganda have all asked us to stay behind and provide protection for the safe passage of their troops,” Meles told parliament.
The African Union has expressed fears the impending crisis in Somalia is likely to threaten regional and global security and asked the United Nations to immediately authorize a peacekeeping force for Somalia.
Ethiopia’s withdrawal was initially welcomed as a step towards the implementation of an agreement signed in Djibouti, for the re-stabilisation of Somalia, which would culminate in the deployment of a robust UN force there.
But the UN Security Council has not been able to authorize a peacekeeping force for Somalia, leaving the African Union with little option.
In a statement on Wednesday, the AU Commission President Jean Ping asked the Security Council to authorize a peacekeeping mission for Somalia. He said he had been worried by the impending security vacuum in the country.
However, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said his country was not prepared to wait indefinitely for the deployment of the UN peacekeepers in Somalia. “We have been waiting for the past two years for the deployment of the necessary peacekeeping forces by the African Union,” Meles said.
Ping said he was considering a new strategy which would include beefing up the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to take up positions left by the exit of the Ethiopian forces.
The AU has been unable to raise the 8,000 troops it authorized for deployment in Somalia. The Burundian and the Ugandan governments offered about 3,000 troops in the country, whose jobs have been limited to high-profile security.
The forces have not been involved in combating the Islamist militia that have continued to claim territorial control in Somalia. Ethiopian troops were much more involved in the stabilization efforts and combat against the Islamists.
Ethiopian security sources said the troops withdrawn from Somalia, would stay around 400 kilometres from Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and might invade camps operated by the Islamist jihadist militia, Al Shabab.