UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – Ethiopia denied Thursday that it was “shirking responsibility” by beginning to withdraw its troops from conflict-stricken Somalia.
Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom told the UN Security Council that other countries were informed “months” ago about the withdrawal and also complained about the lack of “burden-sharing” for the foreign force in Somalia.
His comments came after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said Ethiopia was “anxious” to pull its forces out of Somalia and called on the African Union force in the country, AMISOM, to speed up its deployment.
Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia in November 2011 and have played a decisive role in routing Shebab extremists and maintaining control over areas clawed back from Islamist groups.
AMISOM has played a key role in propping up a transitional government that is the first serious administration in the lawless country since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Ethiopia pulled its troops from the southern town of Hudur suddenly in mid-March, however, and the Shebab took back the town to claim their first military success since they were chased out of Mogadishu in August 2011.
“Those who ought to know where informed many month prior to the withdrawal,” Adhanom told the Security Council, adding that accusations of lack of consultation had “absolutely no ground.”
“What happened does not in any way signify shirking responsibility on Ethiopia’s part, though the question of burden sharing is something that has always been a source of concern for us,” the minister added.
In Addis Ababa, Desalegn told parliament that Ethiopia sought “to accelerate our complete withdrawal towards our border” with Somalia.
He expressed concern about the slow pace at which the African Union force AMISOM, which first deployed in 2007, is replacing the Ethiopians.
Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda have troops in AMISOM and their costs are met by the African Union and the international community. Ethiopia has stayed outside this arrangement.
Ethiopia is going to stage a “phased” withdrawal from Somalia, Adhanom has been quoted as telling officials in New York.
But there are concerns that any wider pullout from Somalia by Ethiopia could trigger a security void and a possible return of the Shebab.
Observers have told AFP that AMISOM probably does not have sufficient troops to replace the Ethiopians, whose numbers have been estimated at up to 8,000 troops.