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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
U.S. Secretary of State to visit Ethiopia, back Somalia peacekeepers

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia Dec 1 (Garowe Online) - In a rare trip to Africa, the United States of America's secretary of state, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, will visit Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the African Union's headquarters, to hold talks with Ethiopian officials and African heads of state.

Dr. Rice is expected to back the full deployment of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is currently short-handed.

Dr. Rice, U.S. secretary of state
Interim Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf is among the African leaders expected to arrive in Addis Ababa soon and hold discussions with the visiting U.S. delegation.

Another African head of state, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, is also expected in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian government officials confirmed to Garowe Online.

Burundi has pledged to deploy 1,700 peacekeepers to serve in the capital Mogadishu under AMISOM, but the arrival of that force has been hindered by logistical and transportation delays.

So far, Uganda is the only AU member state to deploy 1,600-strong peacekeepers to Mogadishu with the mandate of protecting that country's fragile transitional government.

Somalia's government is facing a growing insurgency led by Islamist fighters, whose stated aim is to expel Ethiopian soldiers from Somali soil.

The Ethiopian army, an ally of President Yusuf, invaded Somalia last December to overthrow Islamic rulers in Mogadishu. While the military campaign was initially successful, neither the Ethiopian army nor the AU peacekeepers have mustered enough muscle to completely crush the subsequent and ongoing armed rebellion.

As the government's counterinsurgency operations intensify in Mogadishu, emerging reports have indicated that the insurgency is spreading to other regions of Somalia, including the central regions and regions further south of Mogadishu.

The violence has killed thousands and displaced more than a third of Mogadishu's civilian population, according to United Nations estimates.

But the visiting U.S. secretary of state's mission is not limited to the unfolding chaos in Somalia. There is serious concern for the deteriorating human rights situation in eastern Ethiopia's Ogaden region, a territory inhabited by ethnic Somalis.

The Ethiopian army is combating Somali separatists in the Ogaden, but human rights groups accuse Addis Ababa of carrying out a campaign of "collective punishment" against civilian targets, including gang rapes, kidnappings, killings and the burning down of entire villages.

UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who recently visited the Ogaden region, refrained from saying whether these alleged human rights abuses in Ogaden are true. Instead, he stated that these allegations "need to be investigated openly and independently" and labeled the humanitarian situation in Ogaden as "potentially serious."

Ethiopia is prone to such serious accusations of human rights abuses. An Ethiopian crackdown on the opposition in 2005 led key opposition party figures to Washington, D.C., where they lobbied a bill in the U.S. Congress condemning Ethiopia's human rights record.

Dr. Rice's trip to Addis Ababa will also focus on the situation in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where war rages between local fighters and government-backed militias.

The AU force in Darfur has failed to curb violent attacks against civilians, giving Darfur rebels no choice but to continue the war against the Sudanese army and its brutal Janjaweed militias.

Several U.S. officials have visited the Horn of Africa region in recent months, including Dr. Rice's deputy secretary for African affairs, Jendayi Frazer, who visited the Somali town of Baidoa in April.

Furthermore, Gen. William "Kip" Ward, who was recently appointed as the first commander of the U.S. military's Africa Command (AFRICOM), visited Ethiopia in pursuit of finding a U.S. military base in Africa.

But Dr. Rice's first trip to Ethiopia as U.S. Secretary of State comes at a time the Horn of Africa, one of the world’s most volatile regions, is enduring precarious challenges that have drawn the attention of world powers.

Source: Garowe Online

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