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Ethiopia pulls last troops from Somalia

By on January 26, 2009

Ethiopia pulled its last soldiers out of Somalia on Monday after a more than two-year intervention to combat an Islamist movement in its Horn of Africa neighbour, officials on both sides said.
The departure of Addis Ababa’s roughly 3,000 troops starts a new era for Somalia, which has suffered 18 years of conflict since a dictator was ousted from office.
Predictions the power vacuum would herald more bloodshed were confirmed with immediate violence in Baidoa, the seat of Somalia’s parliament which Ethiopian troops left overnight.
Clan militia and local police looted the empty bases, with two people dying 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 parliament, meeting in Djibouti due to insecurity at home, voted 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 unity government as the only option for peace in the country of about 10 million.
“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.’s envoy to Somalia.
The vote means that Somalia’s parliament will accept 200 new members from the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) now and leave 75 seats to be filled by other opposition and civil society members later.
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.
PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS 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.
In Baidoa, residents already suffering from a drought and food shortages braced for a possible Islamist assault on a town the insurgents have long wanted to control.
“We are afraid thirst or fighting will kill us,” said mother-of-eight Fatuma Ali, outside her closed store.
“We do not know where to run.” Somali government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said the remaining Ethiopian troops pulled out of Baidoa on Sunday night before heading further west towards the border.
“The Ethiopians have fulfilled their promise. Their last troops crossed the border this morning,” he said.
Meeting hundreds of Somali politicians in Djibouti, Abdallah and other international players are also pushing for parliament to elect a new president this week.
Legislators were discussing later on Monday whether they would stick to that timeframe or vote for an extension — a move being stiffly resisted by international players in Djibouti.
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 Dec. 29.
The international community hopes a more inclusive Somali administration will be able to reach out to armed groups still fighting the government and African Union peacekeepers.
The more militant Islamist wing of the ARS, based in Eritrea, has so far refused to take part in the peace process.
So have fighters in the hardline Islamist group Al Shabaab, who want to impose their strict version of Islamic law in Somalia.

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