Addis Ababa — Ethiopian forces will hand over two recently captured towns in Somalia which were the strongholds of the Al-Qaida allied Al-Shabab Islamist militants in Somalia to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), it was announced on Friday.
Ethiopian sent hundreds of troops to Somalia in December after the war ravaged East African nation requested help to fight Al-Shabab rebels. The Ethiopian forces shortly after the incursion freed the central town of Beledweyne from Al-Shabab. The second key pocket of Al-Shabab, Baidoa, was seized late last month.
The Commissioner for the AU Peace and Security Council, Ramtane Lamamra, told reporters that Ethiopian troops are no more needed in both the captured towns.
"For now, it's mission accomplished and AMISOM would be able to take over in both places," he said.
According to Lamamra, by the end of April, over 2,500 Djiboutian, Burundian and Ugandan AMISOM soldiers will move in to Beledweyne and Baidoa to replace the Ethiopian troops.
The AU said Ethiopia will withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of next month.
Following the latest incursion, Ethiopia promised to withdraw its forces once stability is restored in its neighbour Somalia.
In February, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to boost the AMISOM force in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731 troops to advance the battle against the Somalia militants. The decision was highly welcomed by the Addis Ababa-based 54 member continental bloc.
Ethiopia previously sent troops to Somalia in 2006 with US backing and pulled them out in 2009 after they overthrew the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) from de facto power in Mogadishu.
MILITANTS ATTACK ETHIOPIAN POSITION
Dozens of Ethiopian troops are reported to have been killed in an attack by al-Shabab fighters on Saturday. The battle took place at the town of Luuq in south west Somalia.
Eyewitness said the latest fighting was the fiercest since Ethiopian troops reentered the country a few months ago.
"We forced the enemy to temporarily abandon three barracks and we killed more than 40 of their men," Sheikh Mohamed Abu-Fatma, a top al-Saebab commander told AFP.
Some eye witnesses said as many as 100 combatants from both sides have been killed and many more wounded by the three hour fighting.
The attacks come a day after the AU announced that Ethiopian forces are to leave Somalia by the end of April.