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A couple weeks ago, news broke that Ethiopia intends to pull its troops out of Somalia by the end of the year, ending its very contentious presence in the country and hopefully leading the way to an eventual peaceful resolution of its conflict. Yesterday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, made a sort of unilateral declaration that the African Union peacekeepers that would remain in Somalia also want out.

I wouldn’t blame the beleaguered AU force in Somalia for wanting out; their situation, by any measure, is unenviable and certainly dangerous. But count me among those who think that Eritrean Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles [thanks to reader Ann for correcting the slip-up] is playing geopolitical games here. Either he is digging in his heels, seeking to get the AU out and consolidate Ethiopian presence in Somalia, or he is hoping that the AU and the international community call his bluff, bolstering the AU presence so that Ethiopian forces can in fact leave more easily.

Given that it seems that Ethiopia really has no desire to remain in the still-escalating firestorm that is Mogadishu, and that withdrawing its troops from Somalia would allow them to focus more on the tense situation on its border with rival Eritrea, I speculate that the latter is the case. The fact that Uganda — one of the two countries that, unlike Ethiopia, contributes troops to the AU Mission in Somalia — has vehemently denied Meles’ claim does not give much credence to the theory of an imminent AU withdrawal.

“This is absolutely not true and this is contrary to everything we have said. Our position has always been that if Ethiopia pulls out of Somalia, we will increase our presence there,” he told the AFP news agency.

The AU might want the UN to step in, but I’d say it’s pretty clear that they’re not about to high-tail it out of there before the Ethiopians. Some troops are definitely deserting, though — the Somali army, providing even more easy weapons to a country that already has way too many floating around.

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