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Latest update : 2008-12-06

Ethiopia, due to pull its troops out of Somalia by the end of the year, said Saturday it could extend its deployment by "a few days."

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 forces.
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.

Date created : 2008-12-06