Ethiopia won't stay in Somalia "indefinitely"

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Tuesday it was not prepared to continue propping up Somalia's interim government "indefinitely" and urged leaders there to embrace a peace process to stop 17 years of conflict.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf's government has been unable to stop a two-year insurgency by Islamic militia, despite backup from thousands of Ethiopian troops.

U.N.-brokered peace talks in Djibouti to end the war, which has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, have been rejected by Islamist hardliners, while a spat between Yusuf and his prime minister has further hindered the process.

"If they fail to grasp this historic opportunity, we cannot help them by taking the responsibility on their behalf," Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopian foreign minister, told a regional meeting.

"I would like to reiterate unequivocally that Ethiopian troops are not prepared to continue paying heavy responsibilities indefinitely... It is crucial to send the right message to Somali leaders at this critical time," he told fellow foreign ministers from around the region.

A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting of ministers from the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) a regional body spearheading the peace process, called for sanctions and travel bans on Somali leaders seen as obstacles to peace.

"The ministers called on IGAD heads of state to consider withdrawing political recognition and support to anyone in the Somali leadership who is an obstacle to resolving the Somali problem," the communiqué said.

The U.N. plan foresees the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. Addis Ababa welcomes that and wants to pull out, but not if that leaves the government at the mercy of the Islamists.

During the meeting, Seyoum said Kenya had pledged to send a battalion of troops to boost an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force. There was no independent confirmation from Nairobi.

"Kenya's decision is a great commitment," Seyoum said at the end of a day-long meeting to discuss the Somalia crisis.

Some 3,000 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are in the capital Mogadishu, short of the intended 8,000-strong AU mission.

(Writing by Wangui Kanina, editing by Mark Trevelyan)


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