A Horn of Africa regional summit has given its blessing to the return of Ethiopian troops to Somalia, but the force will remain outside African Union command.
The Inter Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, Friday officially asked Ethiopia to support the campaign by Kenyan, Somali and African Union forces against Somalia's al-Shabab rebels. At the end of a one-day regional summit, IGAD Secretary General Mahboub Maalim said Ethiopia had agreed to help.
"The members of the summit did request the Ethiopian government to come in and assist peace and stabilization activities that are going on in Somalia, and there was a promise from the Ethiopian government to help," he said.
It was not immediately clear how Ethiopian troops would contribute to the campaign against the al-Qaeda linked rebels. But African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said the Ethiopian force would not be under the command of the AU mission known as AMISOM.
"The IGAD summit was ready to even consider the possibility of Ethiopian troops to be included in AMISOM, but it is the wish of the Government of Ethiopia to continue to support, to assist in any way possible both AMISOM and TFG [Transitional Federal Government] troops without being integrated into AMISOM," Lamamra said.
Officials Friday said Ethiopia has not begun operations in Somalia, though news agencies have quoted witnesses saying Ethiopian troops have taken up positions several kilometers inside the border.
Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said Addis Ababa would respond to the IGAD call “as soon as possible”.
Diplomats say the Kenyan troops that entered Somalia nearly six weeks ago are expected to become part of the AMISOM force as soon as the United Nations Security Council approves an increase in the size of the mission. AMISOM currently has an authorized strength of 12,000, but the Security Council is considering a request to increase it to 20,000.
Commissioner Lamamra said Kenya's inclusion in AMISOM would provide the force with much-needed “force enablers” to upgrade the military campaign.
"Once Kenya is re-hatted, [wearing caps of AMISOM] already you have enablers on the ground. Helicopters are there, aircraft are there, warships are there, so there will be be a need to make proper arrangements for those enablers to be usable by the etire opeations across the entire territory of Somalia."
The communique issued at the end of the summit condemns regional outsider Eritrea for supplying ammunition to al-Shabab. Eritrea denies the charge. Eritrea suspended its membership in IGAD a few years ago, but its recent attempt to rejoin has been rebuffed.
The summit also took the opportunity to admit Southern Sudan as its newest member. The regional economic community now includes Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Southern Sudan and Djibouti.
Four heads of state attended the summit; Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelle, and the host, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.