[dehai-news] (Reuters): Ethiopian troops quit main bases in Mogadishu

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Jan 13 2009 - 06:44:34 EST

Ethiopian troops quit main bases in Mogadishu

Tue Jan 13, 2009 1:03am EST

By Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia's
Western-backed government quit their main bases in Mogadishu on Tuesday,
witnesses said, heralding the start of an uncertain new chapter for the
anarchic capital.

Many residents were overjoyed by the departure of soldiers they saw as
occupiers, even though some analysts fear it will leave a power vacuum and
trigger more violence by Islamist rebels who have been battling the
government and each other.

"We were chanting praise be to Allah, who made the troops leave our area,"
local man Hussein Awale told Reuters as hundreds of people gathered at one
military facility in the north of the city that was abandoned overnight.

Insurgents have been fighting the interim government and Ethiopian forces
for two years, since Addis Ababa sent soldiers to help drive a sharia courts
group out of Mogadishu.

More than 16,000 civilians have been killed and one million have been forced
from their homes. But frustrated by rifts in the Somali administration, and
the cost of the operation, Ethiopia has decided to withdraw its estimated
3,000 troops.

Ethiopian commanders could not be reached for comment on their latest moves.
But an Islamist opposition spokesman said he was told all Ethiopian soldiers
would leave the city on Tuesday.

"Ethiopian troops have left their strategic main bases in Mogadishu and the
others will withdraw today," said Suleiman Olad Roble of the Alliance for
the Re-Liberation of Somalia.


The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in civil conflict for the past 18

Some analysts believe the exit of Ethiopian troops could be positive,
prompting the more moderate Islamist groups to join a process of forming a
more broad, inclusive government.

But there are few signs of a quick end to the bloodshed.

At least 11 civilians were killed in Mogadishu on Monday when artillery
shells slammed into the city's crowded Bakara market and nearby residential
streets as the insurgents battled government forces and their Ethiopian

There has also been fierce fighting between rival Islamist factions in the
central trading town of Gurael.

More than 50 people were killed there in battles at the weekend between
gunmen from the hardline al Shabaab group and another Islamist group, Ahlu
Sunna Waljamaca, witnesses said.

Some Islamist factions appear to be turning on al Shabaab, which wants to
impose a strict version of sharia law shunned by traditionally moderate
Somalis. The United States has formally listed it as a terrorist
organisation with links to al Qaeda.

In a Reuters interview on Saturday, Somalia's interim President Sheikh Aden
Madobe said al Shabaab posed the biggest threat to the country and that his
government needed help.

Madobe, who was parliament speaker and became interim president when
Abdullahi Yusuf quit last month, said Somalia needed money to build up its
security forces. [ID:nLA613138]

The African Union (AU) has also been desperately trying to strengthen a
small peacekeeping mission of 3,500 troops from Uganda and Burundi. But
despite pledges of extra battalions from those two nations and Nigeria, they
have yet to deploy.

Analysts say unless the AU force is beefed up soon there is a risk those
peacekeepers will withdraw like the Ethiopians. - For a factbox on Somalia's
conflict, click [LD655148] (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Angus


C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved



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