Thursday, October 16, 2008

US-backed Ethiopian Troops to Stay in Somalia Absent of AU Deployment

Ethiopian troops to stay in Somalia, wait for AU

Thu 16 Oct 2008, 10:11 GMT
By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, Oct 16 (Reuters) - The time for Ethiopian forces to leave Somalia is fast approaching, but they will stay until an African Union peacekeeping force is fully deployed, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Thursday.

Ethiopian soldiers are in Somalia supporting its U.N.-backed interim government, which has struggled to impose control in the face of a Iraq-style insurgency by Islamist rebels.

Some 3,000 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are in the capital Mogadishu -- part of a planned 8,000 strong AU mission.

"The time for us to withdraw is fast approaching," Meles told the Ethiopian parliament in Addis Ababa.

"(But) it is not fair to abandon the AU and international community, which have taken the firm position our troops should stay at least until the African peace force is fully deployed."

Violence in Somalia has killed nearly 10,000 people and displaced more than a million since the start of last year.

The presence of mostly Christian troops from Ethiopia in the staunchly Muslim Horn of Africa country is opposed by the rebels and other opposition figures, while the interim government wants a fully-fledged U.N. peace force to let the Ethiopians go home.

African nations are wary about sending soldiers to Somalia, where the Ugandans and Burundians have often been attacked, and it is unclear if the AU mission will reach its planned strength.

Meles told legislators his administration was constantly reviewing the situation on the ground, but that there appeared to be little scope for agreement between the warring parties.

"We have explained to the international community that there is no readiness by the leadership in Somalia to take their responsibilities for peace and reconciliation," he said.

"If the political leaders in Somali show readiness for peace, then our troops can stay for an additional period."

(Writing by Daniel Wallis)

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