Somalia: Pressure mounts on FGS to boot out non-AMISOM Ethiopian troops
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The presence of Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops in sections of Somalia continues to cause ripples within the war-torn nation, with a group of opposition parties now raising "grave concerns" about their deployment, in a fiery statement on Wednesday.
In the statement signed by almost all major opposition parties, the Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops were accused of "blatant disregard" of long-lasting agreement between Somalia and AMISOM, which clearly outlines the scope of their jurisdiction.
The non-AMISOM troops, the parties argued, are considered as "occupiers" given that there is no formal agreement for their presence in Somalia. Forum for National Parties under former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Wadajir party, Hiigsi coalition, and 1st July alliance for change signed the statement.
While the official number of Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] troops within AMISOM is around 4,000, the number of those in Somalia but out of the mission still remains unknown. However, the troops control parts of Sector III and VI of AMISOM jurisdictions.
But it's the non-AMISOM Ethiopian troops who have continued to cause rifts within the Horn of Africa nation, which has battled inter-clan conflicts and Al-Shabaab menace for the last decade, forcing intervention from the African Union and other international partners.
While dismissing their presence as "unnecessary", the opposition team cited downing of a Kenyan plane carrying medical supplies in Bardale within Southwest on May. 4 as one of the "outright crookedness" of the force, which affirms "persistent" complains from Somalis.
AU Mission chief Francisco Madeira admitted that the aircraft was downed by the Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops, who claimed that it was "mistaken" for a possible Al-Shabaab impending attack. Six people died on spot and investigations have since been launched.
The Ethiopian troops also issued a statement terming the incident as "a mistaken identity". The AU forces operate under the leadership of Lt. General Tigabu Yilma, who is also an Ethiopian.
Also, the opposition team added, the Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops have been working with the federal government to influence Somalia's internal politics, especially in local elections. They cited Jubaland and Southwest polls as "tangible evidence" of mischievous operations of the ENDF.
In Southwest, the troops arrested former Al-Shabaab deputy leader Mukhtaar Robow, who had expressed interest in Southwest polls in December 2018, leading to the death of 11 people in Baidoa. But in Jubaland, the troops didn't manage to topple Ahmed Madobe, a key ally of Kenya despite expressing such intentions.
To "revenge" against Madobe, the troops have been crossing over from Ethiopia border and have since established bases in sections of Gedo. The move, the statement added, is "in total disregard of AMISOM engagement rules and UN arms embargo on Somalia".
"The goal in the Gedo region is to destabilize and fracture Jubaland state after ENDF failed to sway elections in favor of Villa Somalia," added the statement, which could spark fresh political differences between the opposition and the federal government under President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
Both ENDF and Somali National Army [SNA] have been working closely in Gedo, leading to persistent outbursts from the regional leadership under Madobe. Recently, the SNA troops clashed with Jubaland forces, a move that was widely condemned by the US as an avenue for "Al-Shabaab resurgence".
The presence of ENDF troops, the opposition claimed, is an "ultimate desire to intervene in upcoming elections". Somalia is set to hold the first universal suffrage polls in December, although a number of critics have termed the move "untenable" due to the short period of time.
Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops first invaded Somalia in 2007/08 where it flashed the Al-Shabaab militants within the capital, Mogadishu. But a report filed by the UN accused the force of mass violation of human rights including causing deaths of innocent civilians.
And the current situation, the opposition says, should be contained by Somalia's international partners to avoid "a repeat of that horrendous mistake will undermine peace processes and pave way for Al-Shabaab infiltration".
On the receiving end now is ambassador Madeira, whom the opposition now accuses of overseeing "unchecked violation of Somalia's sovereign integrity". Madeira, they added, "is supposed to ensure AMISOM integrity is not tainted by ambitions of a foreign state".
His neutrality on Somalia's domestic affairs was also questioned, with the opposition accusing him of being pro-FGS, arguing that he worked closely in influencing Southwest polls and failed expeditions in Jubaland.
To avert the escalating situation, they argued, both Somalia parliament, the African Union, and the UN security council, should "urgently" investigate the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, adding that Somalis need to know why "important treaties" are usually violated by the neighboring nation.
Also, they added, the African Union Commission leader Moussa Faki should immediately replace Madeira for a "neutral and competent" envoy, who would help unite Somalis. This was the first time Madeira, a Mozambique national, was coming under scathing attack from the opposition.
Reports from Somalia also indicate that the Ethiopian troops' recent entry into Somalia is part of the final assault against Al-Shabaab before the planned exit of AMISOM troops in 2021. It's not clear when they will unleash against the militants.
The FGS has remained mum about the persistent complaints, but it's understood that Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheire recently visited Ethiopia, in what the opposition claimed was a plot to ask for deployment of more troops to Gedo.
Incidentally, the complaints from the opposition come just a day after SNA troops accused KDF of indiscriminately bombing residents of Gedo. The Somali government has been bitter about the presence of KDF in the country, a move linked to Kenya's ties with Jubaland.
The opposition team now wants all Somalis to remain "vigilant" and push for the removal of "occupational" force, which is out to water down gains made by the peacekeeping mission troops. Farmajo has often insisted that the presence of SNA troops in Gedo is part of efforts to "secure" Somalia borders.