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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wednesday 2 March 2005

ETHIOPIA: Meles reaffirms readiness to send peacekeepers to Somalia

ADDIS ABABA, 2 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopia stands ready to send peacekeepers to war-ravaged Somalia, despite opposition from some Somali faction leaders, among others, to the potential move, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Wednesday.

"The bottom line is our offer is still on the table, but we are not going to impose ourselves on Somalia," Meles told a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the capital, Addis Ababa. "It is up to the Somali government and the Somali people."

Meles blamed "internal Somali politics" for the opposition in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to the offer of Ethiopian peacekeepers.

"We have offered to send troops and cover the costs ourselves, until such time as the African Union or the United Nations can take over," he said. "Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Djibouti have also made the same offer. That offer is still on the table. It is up to the Somalis to take it or leave it."

He added: "If they do not want Ethiopian peacekeeping troops in Somalia, then we have no problem with it because we will have saved some money. If they want to have our troops there, we have no problem with that because peace is of direct interest to us and whatever you do in that regard is worthwhile."

Some Somali faction leaders who are part of the transitional federal government had written a joint statement on Saturday expressing their opposition to peacekeepers from neighbouring countries.

"We endorse the deployment of troops from the international community without the involvement of contingents from Somalia's immediate neighbours, Ethiopia and Djibouti," the statement, released from Nairobi, said.

It was signed by Hussein Mohamed Aydid, assistant prime minister and minister of information, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, minister of national security, Musa Sudi Yalahow, minister of trade, Botan Isse, minister for demobilisation and Omar Mohamud "Finnish", minister for religious affairs.

Meles also announced a new defence agreement with Turkey. Erdogan is on a five-day state visit to Ethiopia and South Africa.

"This should not give the impression that Ethiopia is on a buying spree as far as the military is concerned," he said. "I want to stress we are not in the process of a buying spree for arms to destabilise our neighbours. This is just normal cooperation between two friendly countries."

He added: "It is important to highlight this because of the speculation about tensions between our country and Eritrea. We are committed to resolving our problem by peaceful means and peaceful means only."

Erdogan said his country produced munitions and armoured vehicles, which would be available for sale under the agreement.

The UN recently expressed concern about large numbers of troops on both sides of the border, a concern also endorsed by the European Union.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-and-a-half-year war between May 1998 and December 2000 in which tens of thousands of people were killed. Although a peace deal was agreed in December 2000, tensions remain over the disputed 1,000-km common frontier.

IGAD Ministers to Meet

Meanwhile, defence ministers and senior military officials from the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) will meet in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on 7 March to review the findings of a recent fact-finding mission to Somalia.

They will also prepare a report on the mission and debate the requirement to deploy a peacekeeping mission to Somalia, the Ugandan foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Foreign affairs permanent secretary, Julius Onen, told IRIN that the meeting would prepare a situational analysis and come up with numbers of troops needed for the mission, the budget and other logistics needed to help the Somali transitional government set a foothold after relocating from Kenya.

"The defence ministers and army chiefs of staff will meet to receive a report from a team of experts that was recently in Mogadishu to assess the situation ahead of the proposed peace mission there," Onen said.

The Kampala meeting, he added, would set the stage for a meeting of IGAD foreign ministers on Somalia that would take place 16-17 March in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The meeting would also "broadly" discuss the inclusion of troops from Ethiopia and Djibouti on the mission. "The ministers will discuss the issue broadly, but that opposition will not stop the mission because the region is ready to deploy troops in Somalia," Onen told IRIN.

The Ugandan regional cooperation minister, Nsimye Sebuturo, told IRIN: "In every process you will always find a section of society opposed to it, but we have to move on. We shall discuss it and find a common position on this when we meet in Nairobi."

He expressed optimism that when the transitional government settles down in Mogadishu, opposition to the peacekeepers would disappear.

IGAD members include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Somalia. It sponsored two years of peace talks between various Somali clans and factions that culminated in the formation of the transitional government in October.

However, the administration has remained in Nairobi because of security concerns, although President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi are currently visiting the country to build support for the government's return.


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