[dehai-news] (AFP): Ethiopian troops could extend Somalia stint: FM

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sat Dec 06 2008 - 05:57:41 EST

Ethiopian troops could extend Somalia stint: FM

06/12/2008 10:28


ADDIS ABABA, Dec 6 (AFP) Ethiopia's foreign ministry, which announced last
month it would pull its troops out of Somalia by the end of the year, said
Saturday it could extend its deployment by "a few days."

The announcement of Ethiopia's hasty withdrawal had sowed panic among the
African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), whose peacekeepers are to take
over security duties but needed more preparation time.

"Ethiopia accepted it had a moral obligation to AMISOM and it would do
whatever necessary to see that its withdrawal did not harm AMISOM," the
foreign ministry said in a statement.

"This did not imply any delay in withdrawal but might allow for some
flexibility in terms of a few days, if necessary, but this would be for
AMISOM to assess," the statement added.

Ethiopia announced a week ago that it had deemed it "inappropriate" for its
troops to remain any longer in Somalia, citing notably a lack of progress in
peace efforts and deep rifts within the transitional federal government
(TFG) it came to prop up two years earlier.

Ethiopia sent troops to Somalia in 2006 to oust the Islamic Courts Union
(ICU), a radical group which had conquered most of the country and was
imposing a strict form of Sharia law.

Ethiopian troops -- now estimated at around 3,000 -- were meant to prop up
the embattled transitional federal government but the internationally-backed
authorities never succeeded in asserting their power on the restive country.

The Shebab, the former youth and military wing of the ICU, has since waged a
bruising guerrilla war against Somali government troops and Ethiopian

A recent agreement between the more moderate members of the Somali
opposition and the transitional government was reached in Djibouti for a
gradual withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, but no deadline had been announced.

The Djibouti process "looks unlikely to make a breakthrough. It had been
obvious that not everybody within the TFG, even at the highest level, was
enthusiastic about the Djibouti process," the foreign ministry said.

Since Ethiopia said it was pulling out the Shebab have closed in around
Mogadishu after taking most the country, leaving government and AU troops to
control only a handful of locations.

Ethiopia however, has reiterated that it would rush back in the minute an
Islamist group takes power.

The decision to leave Somalia by the end of the year had also prompted the
United Nations -- the main broker in months-old national reconciliation
efforts -- to urge immediate talks aimed at convincing Ethiopia to stay the
course a little longer.


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