, ADDIS ABABA, Nov 17 – Ethiopian and Kenyan officials met Thursday for talks on bolstering the African Union force protecting the Somali government, to help stabilise the war-wracked Horn of Africa state.
The talks took place at a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa, a day after Kenya said it was willing to deploy soldiers for the AU Mission for Somalia (AMISOM).
“In case a request is made, Kenya will avail a few of its battalions to join Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti to help keep peace in Somalia,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told the BBC.
“We would go there to keep peace within the context of AMISOM. Kenyan troops would be under the command, the uniform and the hats of AMISOM.”
To date only Burundi and Uganda of the AU’s 54 members have supplied troops to the 9,700 strong AMISOM force, despite calls to spread the burden across more countries.
AU spokeswoman Nissa Roguiai told AFP earlier the meeting would address a possible commitment of troops by Ethiopia to Somalia.
“It’s only discussions, no consultations will be made. We’re waiting for a commitment,” she said.
Kenya has already acted in its own national interest by sending troops and tanks into southern Somalia to set up a buffer zone against the Shebab militia which controls most of the country and is blamed for recent attacks and kidnappings in Kenyan tourist areas.
Following talks Wednesday in Nairobi between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Somali leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Kibaki’s office said in a statement that the meeting had “welcomed Kenya’s willingness to deploy troops to AMISOM.”
Ethiopia controversially invaded Somalia in 2006 with US backing, but pulled out three years later after failing to restore order in its long-lawless neighbour, which has lacked a functioning government for two decades.
AMISOM, whose commanders have repeatedly called for reinforcements, is tasked with protecting Somalia’s weak Western-backed government, whose control is largely restricted to the capital Mogadishu.
“We have been calling for more troop contributing countries for a long time,” Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretrary James Mugume told AFP, welcoming Kenya’s announcement.
But Mugume explained that having two international forces — the Kenyan army and AMISOM — operating separately in Somalia “could create difficulties” and consultations were under way to bring the Kenyan army under the AU banner.
“What they are looking at is bringing all of these forces together under the framework of AMISOM,” Mugume said.
Last year, the UN Security Council approved an additional 3,000 soldiers, but other countries have declined to stump up troops, although Djibouti and Sierra Leone have promised to send soldiers.
In addition to the Somali conflict, Thursday’s meeting was also to discuss Democratic Republic of Congo’s upcoming elections.