ADDIS ABABA, Feb 14 (AFP) — Ethiopia has agreed to take part in a regional peace force to help Somalia’s transitional government relocate from exile in Kenya to Mogadishu, Information Minister Simon Berekat said Monday.
"We have decided to participate in the peacekeeping force of IGAD in Somalia," Berekat told AFP. "We will contribute in every aspect to the force."
"We will discuss the implementation of this decision in the near future," he said, refusing to elaborate on details of Addis Ababa’s contribution.
The African Union (AU) last week authorised the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which groups Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Djibouti and Sudan, to deploy troops ahead of a larger-scale AU force.
A 15-strong IGAD assessment team is due to arrive in Somalia later Monday to look into the situation on the ground there. Its visit was delayed by three days because of security fears after last week’s slaying of a BBC journalist in Mogadishu.
The Somali government has endorsed the planned troop deployment but warlords are still divided over the matter, which has yet to be approved by the country’s transitional parliament.
Somalia’s notoriously hardline Islamic courts, led by Sheikh Shariff Sheikh Ahmed, have vowed to resist the deployment of foreign troops and some in Mogadishu have specifically opposed the presence of Ethiopian soldiers.
In 2002, the United Nations accused Ethiopia of violating the arms embargo on Somalia. Ethiopia has also faced accusations of supporting several armed factions in Somalia.
Of the other IGAD members, Uganda plans to send 2,200 soldiers, Djibouti and Eritrea are still debating whether to send troops and Kenya will only send observers, according to officials in those countries.
Sudan has not yet made an announcement about any contribution.
Somalia has been a theater of anarchic chaos since the 1991 ouster of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre plunged the country into inter-clan fighting that has claimed between 300,000 to 500,000 lives, according to aid agencies.
A transitional government was elected in October but remains in exile in neighboring Kenya due to security problems.
The government has announced plans to begin returning to Somalia on February 21.