AU troops to replace Ethopian forces in key Somali cities

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - African Union troops are set to replace Ethiopian forces in two Somali cities recently taken from Shebab rebels, the AU Commissioner for the Peace and Security Council said Friday.

By the end of April, over 2,500 Djiboutian, Burundian and Ugandan soldiers with the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are set to move into Beledweyne and Baidoa, where rebels were forced out by Ethiopian forces in recent months.

"Ethiopian troops will not be needed anymore in both places," AU security head Ramtane Lamamra told reporters.

Ethiopian troops and tanks rolled into Somalia in November to support the Somali transitional government in their fight against the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.

Ethiopia says it will leave Somalia as soon as stability is established, although it is far from clear how long that could take.

Lamamra did not confirm whether Ethiopian troops will continue their push into Somalia. "For now, it's mission accomplished and AMISOM would be able to take over in both places," he said.

Ethiopia's military incursion is currently receiving no outside financial support, Lamamra added, but he did not rule out extending Ethiopia's presence in future if greater funding could be secured.

"If we succeed to work out some support package for Ethiopia, we may be in a position to request the government to consider the possibility to help us elsewhere," he said.

The UN Security Council increased AMISOM troops by nearly 6,000 to 17,731 last month and agreed to provide equipment including helicopters and planes.

AMISOM forces are in Somalia to stamp out Shebab rebels and support the country's Western-backed transitional government.

In August, they took over the capital Mogadishu from the extremists, who have continued a series of guerrilla attacks on AU forces.

In October, Kenyan militia moved in after a series of kidnappings and attacks it blamed on Shebab militants.

International leaders met in London in February to pledge greater support for the Horn of Africa country which has been embroiled in a bloody civil war for over two decades.

World News Today

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