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Ethiopia to Delay Troop Pullout From Somalia

Ethiopia has agreed to a brief delay in its troop pullout from Somalia to allow the international community time to organize a replacement force. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports the African Union is issuing an urgent appeal for manpower and funding to strengthen its badly understaffed AMISOM peacekeeping mission.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping and Peace and Security Commission chief Ramtane Lamamra were in Cairo for talks with leaders of the League of Arab States.

Commissioner Lamamra is to fly on to New York later this week to consult with the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The hastily-arranged trip is aimed at generating financial support for a rapid increase in the size of the AU AMISOM peacekeeping mission. AMISOM has worked alongside Ethiopian troops to prop up Somalia's fragile U.N.-backed transitional government.

In a letter sent to potential donors this week, Commissioner Lamamra said Uganda and Burundi, the two nations that supply almost all the 3,400 AMISOM troops in Somalla, had each offered to supply an additional battalion of 850 troops. Military analysts said such a manpower surge would just about make up for the departing Ethiopian contingent of about 2,000.

AU officials said one country, Norway, has given a tentative positive response, while others promised to have an answer within a day or two.

An Ethiopian foreign ministry official, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said Addis Ababa has agreed to push back its self-declared December 31 troop-withdrawal deadline by, at most, a few weeks, to allow time for the AMISOM replacements to arrive.

But the official emphasized that Ethiopian policymakers are losing patience with the international community's seeming lack of concern at the possible collapse of Somalia's fragile transitional government, and the likelihood it would be replaced by an administration led by religious extremists hostile to the West.

Ethiopia and other countries in the East Africa regional group IGAD have also expressed frustration at the failure of the transitional government's leadership to settle internal feuds that are undermining stability in the Horn of Africa.

Last month, IGAD ordered sanctions against anyone considered an obstacle to peace. The order did not name anyone, but officials said it was clearly aimed at transitional president Abdullahi Yusuf.

Ethiopia sent troops to Somalia in December, 2006. They drove out an Islamic group that had imposed Sharia law over much of the lawless Horn of Africa nation, and installed a U.N-supported government. But in the two years since, the troops have become bogged down in fighting with an increasingly potent mix of Islamist and clan-based militias. The transitional government, meanwhile, has been unable to extend its authority outside of parts of the capital, Mogadishu and the central town of Baidoa.

An agreement signed in Djibouti in October between the transitional administration and an opposition faction called for a ceasefire that would pave the way for Ethiopia's withdrawal. But violence has continued, along with a surge in piracy off Somalia's strategic seacoast.

The United Nations describes Somalia as possibly the world's worst humanitarian disaster. The U.N World Food Program estimates 3.2 million people, or 40 percent of the country's population are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance.