June 25, 2009 / 8:47 AM / 9 years ago

Ethiopia not ruling out troops return to Somalia

* Ethiopia awaiting response by international community

* Would not want to intervene alone

* Thinks government can resist hardline Islamist rebels

By Tsegaye Tadesse and Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, June 25 (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has not ruled out sending troops to Somalia if the situation there worsens, but said there are no plans to intervene for now.

Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement from the capital in which new President Sheik Sharif Ahmed played a role. That sparked an Islamist insurgency which is still raging despite the withdrawal of the soldiers in January this year.

"We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where a so-called Ethiopian horse would be trying to take the chestnut out of the fire on behalf of everybody else," Meles told a news conference late on Wednesday.

"And this horse being whipped by every idiot and his grandmother."

Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, fled into exile after the Ethiopian intervention but joined a peace process last year and was elected in January. His government is now battling hardline insurgents who were once allies in the Islamist movement.

Addis Ababa has said it supports the new government, but is wary of the hardline Islamists, who are seen as a proxy for al Qaeda, because they control large areas of Somalia and have threatened to destabilise neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya.

With reports of foreign jihadists streaming into Somalia, Western security services are worried al Qaeda may get a grip on the failed Horn of Africa state that has been without central government for 18 years.


"We want to wait and see how the international community as a whole responds and then see if there is any need to revisit our position on the matter," Meles said.

"We believe the deployment of Ethiopian troops would be unwarranted because we are not convinced there is a clear and present danger to Ethiopia," he said.

Violence from the Islamist-led insurgency worsened this month, with the killing of three officials.

The government, which controls little but a few parts of the capital, has declared a state of emergency and appealed to neighbouring countries for military assistance.

The Ethiopian leader played down claims from the speaker of Somalia’s parliament that the country’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) risked being overthrown without foreign help.

"Our reading of the situation in Somalia is slightly different from the one of the speaker of the parliament that if there is no foreign military intervention ... the transitional government will collapse," Meles said.

"The TFG is facing a very difficult situation with al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam militias supported by hundreds of jihadists, but we don’t believe they will be toppled." (Editing by David Clarke)

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