Ethiopian troops may have marched back into Somalia to intervene on behalf of the crumbling Somalian government that is fast loosing ground to Islamist rebels. Only four months ago, Ethiopian troops withdrew from the anarchical country under a UN-backed peace deal. Reports of their return to Somalia to help oust Islamist forces from Mogadishu have remained confusing, but analysts believe that it is in Ethiopia’s interest to help restore the rule of law in Somalia. Bereket Simon, Ethiopian government spokesperson, has rejected the claims.
Following the near victory by the Al-Qaeda backed Islamist rebel groups, who have been reported to be backed by the government of Eritrea and other Arab governments, the Ethiopian troops have stormed the country again in what has been described in some media as a hot-pursuit operation.
When Ethiopian troops left Somalia, the government of Ethiopia made it clear that it still reserved the right to intervene in Somalia if its interests were directly threatened: Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian state and on that level, having an Al-Qeada backed Islamist-ruled Somalia as its neighbor may not be in their best interest, some observers have claimed.
After Ethiopia’s withdrawal in January, about 4,300 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers from the African Union arrived in Mogadishu, where they took up positions vacated by the Ethiopians. However, the African Union troops only control the presidential palace, airport and seaport in Mogadishu, while the Islamist rebels control a wide area of the capital, along with central and southern Somalia.
The Ethiopian return comes three days after Al-Shabab rebel group took the home town of Somalia interim president Mr. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, closing in on the presidential palace. Eyewitness reports in the towns in Mogadishu have testified to the presence of Ethiopian troops. Residents and commuters in the capital city gave the following testimonies: “I spotted a lot of Ethiopian troops with 12 military vehicles, some of them were digging trenches while others were guarding the whole area. They stopped me and checked my car and then ordered me to move,” a commuter was quoted by BBC as saying. “They have crossed the border late last night and they are here now. They look to be stationing here,” said another witness. “We recognize them because of their military uniform and the language they were speaking,” added another resident.
Bereket Simon, Ethiopian government spokesman has however dismissed the claims by the residents and eyewitnesses as fabricated. According to Mr. Simon, the current events in Somalia presented no immediate threat to Ethiopia and their troops were not contemplating going back there at this point.