Ethiopia pulls out first troops from Somali capital

January 13, 2009

Farah Abdi Warsame, a resident said: “It is a happy day today to see the area for the first time in two years without the Ethiopian forces. We hope the rest will leave the country.”

Hundreds of residents rushed to see the empty camps in Yakshid district, which alongside other Mogadishu neighbourhoods have seen some of the worst violence between Islamist insurgents and the forces.

“The Ethiopian forces withdrew from key positions in northern Mogadishu overnight and our fighters took control of the areas in order to avoid a power vacuum,” added Sheikh Hassan Osman, an Islamist official.

Ethiopia announced its withdrawal in November, sparking concerns of a security vacuum in the war-ravaged country where an African Union force has been unable to halt the violence and insurgents have retaken many regions.

The ill-equipped and under-funded AU force expected to eventually number 8,000 soldiers currently comprises only 3,400 troops from Uganda and Burundi.

Addis Ababa sent its forces into Somalia in late 2006 to back an embattled interim government against an Islamist movement that had gained control of swathes of territory in south and central Somalia.

But the ouster of the Islamists triggered relentless fighting that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands others.