Tensions have escalated between the East African neighbors since January, when Addis Ababa signed a deal with breakaway Somaliland FILE PHOTO. © Ed Ram/Getty Images

Ethiopian troops deployed in Somalia to combat the terrorist group al-Shabaab will be expelled by December if Addis Ababa fails to cancel a disputed port access deal with breakaway Somaliland, Reuters reported on Monday, citing Somali National Security Adviser Hussein Sheikh-Ali.

Thousands of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) soldiers are currently stationed in Somalia, with some operating as part of the African Union Transition Mission (ATMIS) and others under bilateral security agreements.

The UN Security Council-approved mission will be phased out by the end of this year, after an almost two-decade presence of personnel from neighboring Burundi, Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia in the conflict-torn Horn of Africa nation.

Mogadishu’s national security adviser, Sheikh-Ali, told Goobjoog News in an interview published on Saturday that 9,000 troops would leave, and that the government would announce a smaller multinational peacekeeping mission by the end of June.

Ethiopian personnel will not be part of the new AU-led force, organized with international partners to secure key installations in Somalia starting from January 2025, the official declared.

“Our position on ENDF’s role in the post-ATMIS mission is unequivocal. As long as Ethiopia persists in violating our sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence, we cannot and will not consider it an ally in advancing peace and security in the region,” Sheikh-Ali wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

The two East African nations have been at odds since January 1, when Somaliland agreed to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastland around the port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden to Ethiopia for a period of 50 years. The deal will allow the landlocked state to access the Red Sea for commercial purposes, and to build a marine base.

Somalia expels Ethiopian envoy over maritime deal dispute Somalia expels Ethiopian envoy over maritime deal dispute

Somalia has denounced the pact as an act of aggression and a violation of its sovereignty, as it considers Somaliland to be part of its territory despite the region’s de facto independence since 1991.

In April, Somalia expelled Ethiopian Ambassador Muktar Mohamed Ware and recalled its envoy to Addis Ababa for “comprehensive consultations,” citing Ethiopian government actions that it claims violate Mogadishu’s internal security. It also ordered the closure of Ethiopian consulates in Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, which the leaders of both territories opposed.

Security experts and foreign diplomats cited by Reuters claim that the decision to expel Ethiopian forces runs the risk of further destabilizing Somalia, as the national army will not be able to fill the security void, which Al Shabaab militants could exploit. (RT)