By Katharine Houreld
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia said on Wednesday peacekeepers from its Tigray region serving in Somalia had been disarmed over a security issue, raising concerns over the forces’ ability to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.
Diplomatic and security sources said earlier that between 200 and 300 Tigrayans had had their weapons removed.
Ethiopian troops began fighting forces from the northern region of Tigray earlier this month after what the government described as a surprise attack by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on colleagues stationed there.
Ethiopia’s military, which is regarded as the most effective in the Horn of Africa, plays a big role in an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Somalia and has also sent troops bilaterally.
The disarmament of some of those troops could weaken the forces’ ability to fight the Islamist al Shabaab insurgency as Somalia prepares to hold parliamentary elections next month and presidential elections in February, experts say. U.S. President Donald Trump is also considering pulling out hundreds of U.S. troops before January.
“What do you do when you’re a force commander and you find you have 200 or 300 soldiers who can’t go into battle because of their ethnicity?” a security source told Reuters.