Ethiopia said Friday it may contribute troops to the African Union force in Somalia fighting al-Qaida-affiliated insurgents.
East African leaders meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa requested that the nation send troops. A statement by the heads of state said they also asked Kenya to consider integrating their troops into the AU force in Somalia.
"This is the right time for Ethiopia to consider (the) request," Ethiopia's ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Dina Mufti said. "But we still haven't made a decision yet. There will definitely be a response as soon as possible."
Kenyan troops crossed the border into Somalia last month to fight al-Shabab in southern Somalia following a string of attacks on Kenyan soil. They are not yet under the AU mandate. Burundian and Ugandan troops currently make up the bulk of the AU's 9,100-strong force.
Some observers say Ethiopia's involvement in Somalia could be a propaganda coup for al-Shabab. Ethiopia's last incursion into Somalia ended in 2009 and was deeply unpopular.
Witnesses reported a convoy of Ethiopian troops had entered the Somali town of Guriel last weekend. But Dina denied the reports.