World Bulletin/News Desk
Ethiopia plans to keep its troops in Somalia until the Horn of Africa country ratifies a constitution and its military is able to fend off threats on its own, an official said on Friday, signalling a change in policy.
Addis Ababa rolled hundreds of troops across its border in November to open up a third front against the al Shabaab group but was keen to point out their incursion is not a repeat of their ill-fated 2006-2009 war in Somalia.
Ethiopian officials have said their troops would only be deployed for a brief period to fight the group who are also fighting thousands of Ugandan and Burundian troops under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), as well as Kenyan forces to the south.
"It (Ethiopia) will remain (in Somalia) until the Transitional Government (of Somalia) has adequately organised itself to fend off any attack from hostile forces," government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told reporters.
"There is no current plan to evacuate from Somalia until such time that a proper Somali constitution is ratified by all parties to the conflict, and until the constituent assembly will ratify the constitution," Shimeles sa i d.
Last June Somalia's feuding leaders agreed to extend the mandate of a transitional government for a year rather than hold elections, a move sought by Uganda which has peacekeepers stationed in the anarchic state.
The mandate for Somalia's latest administration was meant to expire in August 2011 but President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden had been at loggerheads over what should happen then, and agreed to defer elections.