Nigerian troops are expected to strengthen an African force in Somalia next month and prevent a security vacuum when Ethiopian soldiers pull out, the African Union (AU) said on Sunday.
Ethiopia’s decision to withdraw its 3,000 or so troops from the anarchic Horn of Africa nation by the end of the year has raised fears the fractured, Western-backed government will collapse and Islamist insurgents seize the capital Mogadishu.
The Islamists control the south of Somalia and launch near-daily attacks on the Ethiopians propping up the government and 3,200 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi guarding key sites in Mogadishu.
“The president of Nigeria has confirmed to me personally that one Nigerian battalion will be sent to Somalia in a short time,” AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping told a meeting of regional foreign ministers. “He told me that the troops are equipped and ready, which makes me believe they will be sent in January.”
The battalion, preparing for deployment since August, numbers about 850 officers and men.
Somalia’s transitional government is also on the brink of collapse because of a rift between President Abdullahi Yusuf and Nur Hassan Hussein, the man he sacked as prime minister.
The ministers in Addis Ababa at the meeting of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development, the regional body spearheading the Somali peace process, agreed on Sunday to impose immediate sanctions on Yusuf.
Meanwhile, Switzerland is ready to deploy military personnel to defend its ships from pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa, Swiss President Pascal Couchepin said on Sunday.