Ethiopian troops complete Somali pull-out: minister

January 25, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 25, 2009 (AFP) – Ethiopia has completed the withdrawal of its troops from Somalia where they were deployed two years ago to help the Somali government fight an Islamist insurgency, Communications Minister Bereket Simon told AFP on Sunday.

“The Ethiopian army has successfully completed its mission in Somalia and it has been fully withdrawn,” the minister said.

“But that said, political forces (the Somali government) will continue to receive assistance,” he added.

Ethiopia sent troops to neighbouring Somalia in late 2006 to support a fragile transitional government against Islamist insurgents who had won control of most of the country but later ousted by the forces in early 2007.

Addis Ababa announced on January 2 said that it had started the final withdrawal of its forces from war-torn Somalia.

The troops had faced relentless attacks by the Shebabs, the military youth wing of the vanquished Islamic Courts Union who remained in the country after the political leaders of the movement fled.

The Shebab and other militia have since regained control of much of the territory they lost to the Ethiopia-backed Somali forces, with the government only present in Mogadishu and the provincial town of Baidoa.

Fighters allied to the moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed have taken control of the bases in Mogadishu that were abandoned by the Ethiopian forces.

Ahmed’s Islamist-dominated Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) has signed a peace agreement with the government and are to join parliament which is expected to be expanded on Monday.

Part of the deal reached under the United Nations-mediated negotiatons in Djibouti included Ethiopian troop pullback, a ceasefire and the formation of joint security units to gradually take over until UN peacekeepers are deployed.

But the Ethiopia pull-out sparked security concerns for the war-torn country, where African Union peacekeepers have also come under attack by the insurgents and have been unble to stem the conflict.

On Saturday, at least 22 civilians were killed in a suicide car bomb aimed at the AU peacekeepers, but which missed its target and rammed onto to a bus and killing 17 people. Five others were killed in ensuing gunfighting.

The Horn of Africa country has lacked an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre sparked internecine violence.