Somalia accuses Ethiopian troops of 'illegal' incursion

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia's ambassador to the United Nations on Monday accused Ethiopian troops of making illegal incursions across their shared border, leading to confrontations with local security forces.

At least 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers are stationed in the Horn of Africa country as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission (ATMIS) fighting al Shabaab, an Islamist militia which controls large portions of Somalia.

Another 5,000-7,000 Ethiopian soldiers are stationed in several regions under a bilateral agreement.

A contingent of Ethiopian soldiers crossed into Somalia's Hiraan region to monitor threats from al Shabaab on Saturday, and withdrew on Sunday, several local elders told Reuters.

Ethiopia's army and ministry of foreign affairs spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Somalia's U.N. ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman said the recent 'misadventure' by Ethiopia had forced his country to postpone the next withdrawal of ATMIS troops from July to September.

ATMIS is committed to withdrawing by Dec. 31, when a new smaller force is expected to replace it.

As the drawdown proceeds, with 5,000 of around 18,500 troops leaving last year, the government has projected confidence it can hold the line against al Shabaab. It has said the new force should not exceed 10,000 and should be limited to tasks like securing major population centres.

Relations between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa nosedived earlier this year after landlocked Ethiopia agreed to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastline from Somaliland - a part of Somalia which claims independence and has had effective autonomy since 1991, but has failed to win international recognition.

Ethiopia offered Somaliland possible recognition in exchange for being allowed to set up a naval base and commercial port there – a move Mogadishu has called illegal.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Christina Fincher)