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Ethiopia warned not to pull troops from Somalia

May 15, 2007

Washington - Ethiopia is being warned by the US and the African Union not to withdraw its troops from Somalia before peacekeepers are deployed to replace them.

Ethiopia is being warned by the US and the African Union not to withdraw its troops from Somalia before peacekeepers are deployed to replace them.

AU commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare says it would be a "catastrophe" if Ethiopia pulled out too soon.

US Africa envoy Jendayi Frazer said it would probably be several months before the full peacekeeping force arrived.

Ethiopia's prime minister says he wants to withdraw all his troops, after they helped oust Islamists.

Up to a third of the population fled recent fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and badly need aid.

Less than 40% of the estimated 300,00 displaced Somalis are receiving any help, according to UN humanitarian relief chief John Holmes.

After a visit to Mogadishu, he said Somalia now represents a worse displacement crisis than Sudan's Darfur region.

'Onerous'

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he wanted to end the "onerous" financial burden of having Ethiopian troops, estimated to be several thousand in number, in Somalia.

"Things have improved significantly in Mogadishu, making it possible for peacekeeping troops to do their job," he said.

"I very much hope and expect that those African countries that have promised to send troops will do so."

Konare told the AFP news agency that Ethiopia must wait for the AU forces.

"If Ethiopia withdrew from Somalia today, it would be a catastrophe," he said.

He said Ethiopia had done the job of the AU but its continued presence could "block political dialogue" in Somalia.

Ethiopia has twice fought border wars with Somalia and is widely distrusted there.

So far, Uganda has sent 1,700 peacekeepers but the AU says another 6,300 troops are needed.

Nigeria, Burundi and Ghana have all promised to contribute to the AU force.

Meles said the "organized resistance" of the Islamists had now been "broken".

The Ethiopia-backed government says it is in control of Mogadishu after what is seen as the worst fighting in 16 years in the city.

But gunmen attacked a World Health Organization office in the city on Monday night, injuring a guard, WHO officials say.

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