Ethiopia will only intervene in Somalia as part of the regional Igad grouping, Mr Yelibu Lijalem, the deputy head of mission at the Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi, has said.
He said the threat posed by the advance by radical Islamist forces in Mogadishu was not particular to Ethiopia. “We will decide as a region, we will not intervene unilaterally.’’
Mr Yelibu, speaking at the embassy in Nairobi said: “We are a country of Muslims and Christians who have lived peacefully for 3,000 years and if any jihad is declared, it applies to all Ethiopians.’’ Ethiopia is supporting Somalia’s transitional government led by President Ahmed Sharif Ahmed, himself a former Islamist leader.
On the other hand, Eritrea, which has gone to war with Ethiopia over a border dispute, is supporting the Al-Shabaab movement and the Hizbul Islam group led by Sheikh Dahir Aweys. Mr Yelibu said: “To be specific, the Eritrean Government is the common denominator in training and arming groups in Somalia.’’
At a recent meeting in Addis Ababa, the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) Council of Ministers decided to impose sanctions on Eritrea, and the decision was endorsed by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. They called on the UN to adopt the sanctions decision.
In Nairobi, the Ethiopian diplomat described the current fighting in Mogadishu as “aggression’’ because it involves foreign elements of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He added that the aim of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban was to destabilise the entire region. The Igad position is that all members should support the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.
Mr Yelibu said Sheikh Aweys’ group, Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabaab, by using foreigners, were losing support in Somalia because of their ideology. Late 2006, Ethiopian troops intervened in Somalia after the then Islamic Courts Union declared war on three different occasions.
Said Mr Yelibu: “We have a right under the UN Charter to defend ourselves. Al-Shabaab will not stop in Somalia. They are following a terrorist ideology. The nucleus is Somalia and it will extend from the Horn to the rest of Africa.’’
Already Sheikh Aweys has declared that he wants to take Kenya’s North Eastern Province and Ethiopia’s Ogaden regions that are inhabited mainly by Somalis.