Ethiopia is pledging to send 5,000 troops to Darfur to be part of a new United Nations / African Union peacekeeping force. The pledge comes amid Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia and growing tensions with neighboring Eritrea.
Professor David Shinn of George Washington University is a former US ambassador to Ethiopia. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether this is a significant pledge on the part of Ethiopia.
“It is a significant pledge for several reasons. The timing is a little bit surprising because Ethiopia is experiencing a considerable amount of tension on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border, which causes it to keep a significant number of troops along that border. It also is very much engaged in Somalia with its troops. So one would have thought that it might stretch the military a little bit thin. It’s not clear when the troops would go to Darfur…it may be that they are some months away from actually departing for Darfur, but nevertheless it’s very significant,” he says.
With its current commitments, why would Ethiopia pledge troops to Darfur? Shinn says, “First, I assume there’s been a lot of pressure on the Ethiopians from the African Union and perhaps others in the international community to send troops to Darfur because they are so desperate to increase the numbers there…in addition, the Ethiopian forces are very experienced. They have been in a number of battles in recent years. They have comported themselves very well. And I suspect the feeling in the African Union and the international community generally is that they would be much more difficult for the rebels to deal with than some of the other African troops that are currently in Darfur.”
He says that the Ethiopian troops would be a needed and welcome boost to the new UN/AU Darfur force.
Ambassador Shinn also doubts Ethiopian leaders are very concerned about having their forces stretched too thin. “I’m sure they thought that through very carefully. The leadership in Addis Ababa comes from a guerilla background. They were fighters themselves. They understand these things and they certainly would not offer to send 5,000 troops to Darfur without having thought through very carefully the implications for internal security in Ethiopia.”