[dehai-news] (AFP): Ethiopian troops pull out of Somalia capital

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Jan 15 2009 - 10:27:26 EST


Ethiopian troops pull out of Somalia capital


MOGADISHU (AFP) - Ethiopian troops quit the Somali capital Thursday as a
withdrawal from their African neighbour gained momentum while the war-torn
country's prime minister made a bid for the vacant presidency.

Residents celebrated in the dusty streets of Mogadishu after the last convoy
of 30 Ethiopian trucks was seen seen heading out of the city.

A Somali government spokesman confirmed that Ethiopian soldiers had "fully
withdrawn" from Mogadishu, two years after an ill-fated intervention to prop
up a weak transitional government.

The force was widely dislikde and had faced war crimes allegations by rights
groups. There were until recently about 3,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

"Today is like a holiday. For two years it is the first time that our
capital is without the Ethiopian occupation force," Mogadishu resident
Abdurahman Qooje told AFP.

The Ethiopian government said it ordered troops into Somalia in late 2006 to
prevent the creation of a hardline Islamist state on its borders after
Islamist insurgents had won control of most of the country.

Ethiopia announced on January 2 that it had started a final withdrawal and
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Thursday that there would be no turning

"There is no need to rush and I suspect our troops would want to pull out
without rushing," said Zenawi, speaking in Addis Ababa.

"That said the withdrawal process has begun and there is no turning back,"
he said, when asked about the possibility of sending Ethiopian troops back
into the war-torn country.

"It would be very prudent to be alert," he added. "We have more than a
decade of experience in this regard, we need to have a robust deployment of
troops across the border."

Asked to assess the success of the two-year operation, the prime minister
replied that with hindsight, they could have done it better. "There is
always room for improvements," he said.

Human Rights Watch in December released a report which said the combatants
in Somalia had inflicted more harm on civilians than on each other.

The report, which accused all sides of war crimes, said Ethiopian and
government forces had tortured, raped and killed civilians and looted homes.

Meanwhile, Somalia's Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein announced he would
run for the presidency in an effort to "promote peace and harmony" after
winning a divisive political feud with Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who resigned
as president last month after trying to sack Hussein.

"My immediate task would be to promote dialogue in order to achieve a
lasting peace, if I am elected," said Hussein.

The Ethiopian withdrawal is part of a peace peace deal that Hussein, as
prime minister, negotiated in October 2008 with opposition moderate
Islamists during internationally backed talks in Djibouti.

Under the agreement, security responsibilities will be gradually handed over
to Somali police until a UN peacekeeping force is deployed. There are 3,400
African Union peacekeepers left in Somalia.

The hardline Shebab, the main Islamist insurgent group which now controls
most of southern and central Somalia, rejected the agreement and vowed to
continue its armed struggle.

Somalia's parliament will on January 26 elect a president to replace Ahmed,
who resigned on December 29 after having tried and failed to sack Hussein,
who won the backing of parliament.

"Somalia needs more reconciliation... to have a stable government. I will
also give more attention to development and reconstruction," if elected,
Hussein said.


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