Somalia threatens to expel Ethiopian troops over Somaliland port deal, official warns

8 days ago
Somalia threatens to expel Ethiopian troops over Somaliland port deal, official warns

A senior official from Somalia has stated that unless Addis Ababa cancels a controversial port agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, thousands of Ethiopian troops stationed in Somalia to assist with security will be asked to leave by the end of the year.

According to security experts and foreign diplomats, this decision has the potential to increase instability in Somalia by creating a security vacuum that local forces may not be equipped to handle. This could leave room for exploitation by fighters from Al-Shabaab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

Over 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers are currently deployed in the Horn of Africa as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission (ATMIS) aimed at combating the influence of Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Additionally, an estimated 5,000-7,000 troops are stationed in various regions as part of a bilateral agreement.

Relations between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa nosedived earlier this year after landlocked Ethiopia agreed to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastline from Somaliland – a part of Somalia which claims independence and has had effective autonomy since 1991, but has failed to win international recognition.

Ethiopia offered Somaliland possible recognition in exchange for being allowed to set up a naval base and commercial port – a move Mogadishu has called illegal.

“If they do not repeal the (agreement) before the end of June, or when the new mandate of the mission is decided, all Ethiopian troops, ATMIS and bilateral, will have to go,” Somalia’s national security adviser Hussein Sheikh-Ali told Reuters by phone.

“Ethiopia cannot be an ally and at the same time an aggressor.”

Spokespeople for the Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) did not respond to requests for comment.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), which is mandated by the U.N. Security Council, is due to fully withdraw and hand over security responsibilities to the Somali state by the end of 2024.

But the Somali government has requested several times for the withdrawal of troops to be slowed down, citing setbacks on the battlefield. The troops come from Burundi, Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

A new, smaller peacekeeping mission is expected to be announced by the end of June, with Somalia requesting that Ethiopia not be among the troop contributing countries, according to AU and African diplomats familiar with the plan.

“Given the current political climate, it will not possible to have ENDF be part of AU-led mission,” Somalia’s state minister for foreign affairs Ali Omar told Reuters.