Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has rejected opposition calls
for a timetable for withdrawing his country's troops from Somalia. As
VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from Addis Ababa, Mr. Meles indicated
there would be no change in Ethiopia's determination to keep troops in
Somalia until a credible international force is ready to replace them.
in parliament Thursday, the Ethiopian leader expressed impatience with
the international community's failure to respond adequately to the
violence and lawlessness that has enveloped Somalia for the past 17
He suggested it might soon be time to consider ending
Ethiopia's nearly two-year military campaign to prop up Somalia's weak
Transitional Federal Government.
The Ethiopian presence is
viewed by many Somalis as an occupation force, prompting a violent
backlash from extremist clan-based militias. But, Prime Minister Meles
said withdrawal would be considered only when stability is assured.
the following months, the time for us to take a once and final decision
is approaching," he said. "The time has come to take a final decision
on the issue, in particular when our troops entered Somalia, those of
us who felt our intervention was based on national security interests,
then our withdrawal should also be responsible."
The prime minister brushed aside calls by leaders of some opposition factions for a troop withdrawal timetable.
some have proposed something outside, stating that we should leave
Somalia on this specific date, outside our strategic goal, interests,"
he said. "It would not be correct to state we would leave on Monday,
Tuesday or Thursday."
Ethiopia is believed to have more than
10,000 soldiers in Somalia supporting the interim government. The
African Union also maintains a peacekeeping force in and around the
capital, Mogadishu. But only 3,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are on
the ground, out of an authorized eight thousand.
The U.N. Security Council has said it would only consider sending blue-helmeted peacekeepers after security conditions improve.
another issue, Mr. Meles said he sees no early end to Ethiopia's
longstanding boundary dispute with its northern neighbor Eritrea. With
tensions high following the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers along the
frontier, Mr. Meles expressed determination to maintain Ethiopia's
troop presence indefinitely.
"If we don't find peace, the
situation this is preparing [we are prepared], even for ten years. It
will not affect us substantially," he said.
and Eritrea fought a two-year border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed
an estimated 70,000 people. Both sides still have tens of thousands of
troops massed along the frontier, at some places within eyesight of
U.N. peacekeepers had maintained calm along the
frontier for the past seven and a half years, but the Security Council
shut down the mission in July, saying the countries had rejected
options for a continued presence. The last of the U.N. troops are going
home this week.