The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on Thursday said it was prepared for an eventual Ethiopian troop withdrawal from areas in the south of the country, barely a week after Al-Shabaab seized a town vacated by Ethiopian forces.
Thousands of African Union peace keepers are deployed in Somalia to support the internationally recognized federal government fight off the insurgents of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab.
The radical group’s fighters recaptured the southern town of Hudur on Sunday following the surprise withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces in the region.
“We have in place contingent measures to ensure that areas in Bay and Bakool where AMISOM are co-located with Somali National Security Forces remain stable and secure in the event of further Ethiopian troop withdrawals,” said General Gutti, the AMISOM Force Commander.
The militant group has since took over couple of smaller towns in the southern Bakool region where small contingent of AMISOM peacekeepers are deployed along with Ethiopian troops who crossed into Somalia to drive Al-Shabaab insurgents from regions of Bay and Bakool along the two countries common frontier.
The Al-Shabaab fighters executed a well-known local Imam following their capture of Hudur.
The group reportedly beheaded the prominent cleric after accusing him of working with Somali government and Ethiopian troops in the town.
Following the Al-Shabaab gains in southern Somalia reports of Ethiopian plan for a full withdrawal from the region emerged and the possibility of Al-Shabaab takeover of the region forced AMISOM and Somali government to take steps to fill in the potential security vacuum.
AMISOM reassured Somalis that they were “closely monitoring developments following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Hudur” and both Somali government and AMISOM were trying to “re- establish a security presence in the area”.
AMISOM Force Commander General Gutti said:
“We strongly condemn the beheading of the prominent cleric in Hudur by the Al Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab terror group and are working with the Somali National Security Forces to ensure that security is restored to the area as soon as possible.”
“We are conducting a review of our troop deployments (in Bay and Bakool regions) and in Hiiran and remain confident that there will be sufficient coverage,” General Gutti said.
AMISOM urged members of any armed opposition groups to “lay down their arms and turn themselves over” to the Federal Government of Somalia and AMISOM.
They said those turning themselves in “will be treated fairly and in accordance with International conventions”.
It is not clear if the military groups will head to the call.
Xafiiska Wararka Midnimo, firstname.lastname@example.org