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Ethiopian Incursion Raises New Questions About Forging a Solution for Somalia

A lot of questions have been raised about what drove Ethiopian troops to cross their borders and enter Somalia’s internal power struggle late last month. The Somali (TFG) transitional government’s appeal for help, and a predominantly Christian country’s concerns about what it perceived as a rising Islamic fundamentalist threat next door may have convinced Addis Ababa that a positive outcome between Islamists and TGF warlords was unlikely. Raymond Copson is editor of the online Africa Policy Forum for Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He explains that after long years of enmity between the two nations, it’s understandable why rising tensions provoked the latest intervention.

“Somalia has intervened in Ethiopia in the past, and of course, there was a major global crisis in 1978 over the Somali invasion of the Ogaden. So it’s not surprising that Ethiopia would be extremely nervous about assertions on the part of Somalis of an intention to invade Ethiopia. You could argue that Ethiopia was exaggerating the threat. It doesn’t seem that these forces were really very strong, but you can’t blame them for being concerned,” Copson said.

Since last month’s incursion, the United States has been taking a two-pronged approach toward Somalia, continuing to back a UN Security Council effort to boost peace talks and an international force, and also backing Addis Ababa’s right to intervene on behalf of the TGF, which requested Ethiopian help. Raymond Copson says that ultimately, the Bush Administration will have to weigh in most heavily on the international solution.

“Most expect that resistance to the Ethiopian presence is going to grow in the weeks and months ahead, if indeed they stay, and so I don’t think we can continue to let the forces in the region work their own will. To my mind, the way to go would be to have a UN Security Council resolution to be sure, but also to replace the Ethiopian forces as quickly as possible with an African peacekeeping force,” he said.

Mr. Copson says that the long-term presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia does not seem to be a viable solution.

“The antipathies between Ethiopians and Somalis have very deep roots and from what the Ethiopian government is saying to date, they have recognized that they can’t stay there very long,” he said.

The Bush Administration has previously looked unfavorably on a dominant governing role by Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU) because of its reported ties to Al Qaeda terrorists. But Raymond Copson says that in light of current changes in Somalia’s balance of power, Washington has the opportunity of creating new openings in negotiations between the warring sides.

“It does seem to me that the situation is much more favorable than what one might have anticipated, that a significant portion of the Somali population is actually welcoming the Ethiopian role. And so this does open unexpected opportunities, and I would hope the Administration takes advantage of them,” he said.

Raymond Copson is the author of a new book, to be published this June by Zed Books. He says it is a study of the Bush Administration’s Africa foreign policy.