[dehai-news] (Reuters): Somali insurgents take Baidoa after Ethiopians leave

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Mon Jan 26 2009 - 15:47:42 EST

Somali insurgents take Baidoa after Ethiopians leave

Mon Jan 26, 2009 8:05pm GMT


By Mohamed Ahmed

BAIDOA (Reuters) - Hardline Islamist insurgents captured the central town of
Baidoa on Monday, an important stronghold of Somalia's fragile government
and seat of the national parliament, witnesses said.

Just hours after Ethiopia withdrew its last troops from Baidoa and pulled
back across the border, fighters from the militant al Shabaab group moved

Battling government troops and local clan militia, they captured an old
granary serving as the legislature, the airport, and the home of the
country's acting president, locals said.

"My fighters are now in Baidoa and the town is peaceful," al Shabaab
spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansoor said.

While some analysts said Ethiopia's withdrawal from Somalia on Monday could
take the sting out of the Islamist insurgency, al Shabaab -- which is on
Washington's list of terrorist groups -- has vowed to carry on fighting and
impose Islamic law.

It has long wanted to take Baidoa, which, along with Mogadishu, was the only
place where the government had any physical control.

With security deteriorating rapidly in Somalia, the country's parliament
voted in neighbouring Djibouti to double its size and invite 200 members of
the moderate Islamist opposition to join the expanded body.

International players including the African Union and United Nations are
pushing for a new unity government as the only option for peace in the
country of about 10 million that has had perpetual civil conflict since

"I am extremely encouraged by this vote and I would like to thank Somalia's
leaders, the parliamentarians and all those who have helped work towards
such a positive step," said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. envoy to

The vote means that Somalia's parliament will accept 200 new members from
the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) and leave 75
seats to be filled by other opposition and civil society members later.

Legislators went to Djibouti due to lack of security in Baidoa.


In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian officials confirmed the complete pullout of their
troops, but said they would maintain a heavy presence along the long border
with Somalia.

The Ethiopians entered Somalia to chase a sharia courts movement out of
Mogadishu at the end of 2006. The offensive sparked an Islamist-led
rebellion, fighting that has killed at least 16,000 civilians and caused a
humanitarian disaster.

Shortly after the Ethiopians left Baidoa overnight, clan militia and local
police looted the empty bases. Two people died from shooting during the
melee, witnesses said.

Insurgents then hurled a grenade at government soldiers near a bus-stop,
prompting return fire. At least three people were killed and eight others
injured in that incident, locals said.

Somalia's weak, Western-backed government had depended on the Ethiopians for
military support, and is now exposed to an array of Islamist opposition
groups. The Islamists have, however, been fighting among themselves in
recent weeks.

Meeting hundreds of Somali politicians in Djibouti, Abdallah and other
international players are pushing for the expanded parliament to elect a new
president this week.

The international community hopes a more inclusive Somali administration
with new leadership will be able to reach out to armed groups still fighting
the government and a small force of African Union peacekeepers.

Under the constitutional charter, a new Somali president should be chosen by
parliament within 30 days of the resignation of former President Abdullahi
Yusuf, who quit on December 29.

Legislators are mulling whether to stick to that timeframe or vote for an
extension -- a move being stiffly resisted by international players in

Al Shabaab and the more militant Islamist wing of the ARS, based in Eritrea,
have so far refused to take part in the U.N.-hosted peace process.

C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved


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