MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia will soon bring home 5,000 men it sent to train in Eritrea as soldiers, a government spokesperson said on Tuesday, after months of protests by the men’s parents claiming they had been recruited under false pretences and held captive.
Initial reports that thousands of men had gone missing provoked protests in the capital Mogadishu and several towns in January 2021. Months later, a Somali intelligence agent investigating the case was killed.
Last week, newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met with the soldiers in Eritrea, his office said, without saying how many had been taken. His predecessor had refused to answer questions on the subject.
“They are 5,000 soldiers who were missing and now found. The former government did not communicate with the people about those soldiers and so people just circulated rumours. The process to bring them back home is going on,” Abdikarim Ali Kar, Mohamud’s spokesperson, told reporters.
He denied reports that the men were held against their will in Eritrea, although their families say they have been unable to contact the recruits since they were taken.
Relations between the leaders of Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea warmed after Ethiopia’s leadership changed in 2018. Eritrea is often described as “the North Korea of Africa” for its repression, use of forced labour, and surveillance of its citizens.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Angus MacSwan)