, ADDIS ABABA, Nov 25 – East African leaders urged Ethiopia on Friday to support Kenyan, African Union and Somali troops battling Islamist Shabaab rebels in the war-torn Horn of Africa state.
Ethiopian troops are reported to have crossed last week into neighbouring Somalia, but Addis Ababa has denied having deployed soldiers.
A meeting by Ethiopian, Kenyan, Djiboutian and Somali leaders in Addis Ababa called on “the Ethiopian government to support the Kenyan-TFG and AMISOM operation.”
Kenya deployed forces in October to fight the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in southern Somalia, while the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is based in Mogadishu where it protects the weak Somali government from the rebels.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Dina Mufti said his country’s support could be “military, political, diplomatic or otherwise.”
“It is all inclusive, it depends of what Ethiopia concretely offers, which will be worked out soon,” he told AFP.
The summit of the seven-member East African bloc, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, was attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Djibouti’s Ismael Omar Guelleh and Somali leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The Al-Qaeda-inspired Shabaab rebels who have waged bloody battles against the Somali government are also accused of stoking insecurity in neighbouring countries.
Kenya last week said it was willing to send troops for the AMISOM, but did not clarify whether its troops currently in southern Somalia would switch to an AU mandate or whether it would send a separate contingent for the mission.
The Shabaab are facing growing pressure as regional armies slowly encircle them, with Kenyan forces in the south, Ugandan and Burundian African Union forces in the capital Mogadishu and Ethiopian troops in the west.
Ethiopia in 2009 ended a three-year incursion into Somalia where it defeated an Islamist movement, but its presence triggered bloody resistance that gave rise to the Shabaab militia.
Somalia has been ravaged by two decades of bloody conflict and lacks an effective central authority.
The Shabaab, who control much of southern Somalia, withdrew from their bases in Mogadishu in August, but have resorted to guerrilla attacks.
Since Kenya’s incursion into southern Somalia, grenade attacks suspected to be the work of the extremist militia have increased in areas around the Kenya-Somali border.
Friday’s meeting also admitted South Sudan to the regional bloc.