Ethiopia on Wednesday denied that a string of withdrawals of troops from towns in Somalia were connected to the state of emergency declared in response to nearly a year of anti-government protests.
Government spokesperson Getachew Reda insisted the removal of troops from a string of Somali towns -including at least three since Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency on October 9 – was to do with the “financial burden” and “lack of support” rather than the need for more troops at home.
“It has nothing to do with the state of emergency,” Reda told a press conference in the capital Addis Ababa.
“We have been making a very conscious and responsible decision to evacuate our forces from many parts of Somalia. We cannot remain there indefinitely.”
Reda said the domestic challenge represented by the unprecedented months of sometimes deadly anti-government protests was not “enormous enough for us to shift our policy in Somalia”.
Ethiopian troops deployed to fight Shabaab militants in Somalia have left towns in the western Bakool and Hiraan regions in recent weeks, allowing the insurgents to immediately reclaim them.
Most recently, Tiyeeglow in Bakool region was abandoned on Wednesday and hours later Shabaab fighters moved in.
“We were informed about the pullout of the Ethiopian troops and this morning they have proceeded with their plan to vacate the town,” said Abdulahi Moalim Hassan, a security official in Hudur, the nearby district capital.
“We are not sure about the fate of Hudur as well,” he added. “People are worried and they are not relying on the Ethiopian troops anymore.”
Reda said the withdrawn troops were not from Ethiopia’s 4 400-strong contingent of the internationally-funded African Union peace-enforcement mission, Amisom, but rather were some of the “few thousands” deployed in Somalia unilaterally for which his government is “paying all the expenses”.
“These troops are not under Amisom and unfortunately are not being helped in their efforts to assist the Somali national army,” said Reda.
He said Amisom troops were not affected and neither were all non-Amisom forces being withdrawn.