Addis Ababa (AFP) – Ethiopia said Monday it was ready to boost its troop levels in Somalia to replace soldiers from Sierra Leone, which has been forced to withdraw its forces from the mission over Ebola fears.
A contingent of 850 soldiers from Sierra Leone, who were part of the African Union’s 22,000-strong AMISOM force, began departing Somalia on the weekend after a 20-month posting in the war-torn country.
AMISOM said the troops would not be replaced from Sierra Leone until the Ebola outbreak in the west African nation, which has the largest number of recorded cases of the virus, was contained.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said his country could help take their place.
“If there is a request from the African Union, Ethiopia is ready to replace any contingent that leaves Somalia,” he told reporters, adding that Ethiopian troops were already operating in “more than 60 percent of Somali territory.”
African Union troops are in Somalia in support of the country’s fragile, internationally-backed government and to fight Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels.
Desalegn, however, repeated concerns by several international donors over the recent in-fighting in the Somali government that saw the president again sack his prime minister.
“This squabbling must be addressed,” Desalegn said.
“We hope this squabbling will not continue,” he added, stressing the the focus needed to stay on the need to “eradicate the Shebab” — who have conducted a wave of attacks in Somalia and Kenya, another source of AMISOM troops.
Shebab attacks have recently been foiled in Uganda and Desalegn said Ethiopia was also at risk.
“The Shebab are a threat to Ethiopia. Incidents have not happened in Ethiopia not because al-Shebab is not threatening us, but simply because we are vigilant,” he said. “We are following very carefully all the movements of al-Shebab in Ethiopia.”