Ethiopia hands over security of Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Ethiopia on Tuesday handed over security duties in Somalia to a joint force including Somali government officials and Islamic militiamen — a shift some fear will leave a power vacuum in the lawless African nation.
The Ethiopian troops have been propping up Somalia's weak government for two years, but said they would end their unpopular presence as demanded under an October power-sharing deal signed between the U.N.-backed Somali government and a faction of the country's Islamists.
"It is time Somalia stands on its own feet," said Ethiopian commander Col. Gabre Yohannes Abate, as he handed over security operations during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Mogadishu.
"So we are saying goodbye to all Somalis and their dignitaries," Abate said.
The pullout has received wide support from ordinary Somalis, officials and diplomats. Many had seen the Ethiopians as occupiers, and their two-year deployment has been a rallying cry for the insurgents to gain recruits even as the militants' strict form of Islam terrified people into submission.
"The insurgents have been fighting for the withdrawal of Ethiopians all this time," Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein said during the handover. "When the Ethiopians have begun withdrawing, there is no need for fighting again. I urge all Somalis to become peace-loving people."
It was unclear when all of the thousands of Ethiopians will have departed; they were pulling out in stages, rather than all at once, and gave no exact dates for security reasons.
Some feared their departure would allow the strengthening Islamic insurgency to take over.
On Monday, Islamic insurgents attacked the presidential palace, resulting in heavy fighting with government troops, during which at least 11 civilians were killed.
The U.N. envoy to Somalia welcomed the Ethiopian withdrawal as the honoring of a commitment made with the power-sharing deal signed last year in Djibouti.
"The ball is now in the court of the Somalis, particularly those who said they were only fighting against the Ethiopian forces, to stop the senseless killings and violence," Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said in a statement issued Tuesday in neighboring Kenya.
An official from Somalia's splintered opposition, Hussein Siyad Qorgad, urged all to "come together and make a unity government."
"We are happy to see Ethiopian troops withdraw from Somalia ... we need to see them off, but we do not need to see them off with mortars or fighting," said Qorgad, deputy chairman of a faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
The government called in the Ethiopian troops in December 2006 to oust an umbrella Islamic group that had controlled southern Somalia and the capital for six months.
The Ethiopians' decision to then stay on, despite resentment from many Somalis, became a reason for Islamists to launch an insurgency during which thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands fled the capital.
Fadumo Wehliye, who lost three of her eight children during the violence, described the Ethiopian pullout as "great" and said she would go back to home in Mogadishu.
"For the last two years ... I have been living in a makeshift house in the outskirts of the capital," she said. Now "I will return to my home."
Somalis Welcome Defeat of al-Shabaab Islamists
By Peter Clottey
12 January 2009
Somalis are celebrating reports of the defeat of the Islamic fundamentalist group al-Shabab after several members of their fighters were killed Sunday in fierce clashes in central Somalia. Al-Shabab, described as by Washington as a terrorist organization, clashed with Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca for control of central Somalia as Ethiopian troops began their crucial withdrawal. Several al-Shabab militant fighters were reported killed and their weapons seized. Sheik Abdulkarim Risak is a senior officer of the Islamic group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that his fighters will continue fighting al-Shabab until they are flushed out of Somalia.
"As you already know, early in the morning they (al-Shabab) came from different places to Gruael. You know, most of the Somalis call them al-Shabab, but in the Somali language we say they are al-Shaar because they are evil really. They come fighting in different places and killed a lot of people, but Allah willing, we saved our people and we pushed them back some kilometers," Risak noted.
He said his Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca fighters would continue to protect mainstream defenseless Somalis.
"We are defending ourselves. We are defending our wives. And we are defending our religion. Our religion prohibits Muslims fighting among ourselves, and you know, these people are not Muslims at all. They are foreign fighters, and I think they are al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is not functioning here in Somalia," he said.
Risak said his group is full of devout Muslims who pleaded with al-Shabab not to attack them, but claims that was not heeded.
"In here we consider Islam as a very good religion and we are not at war with anybody. We already told them to please not enter into our area of influence and internal affairs, but they refused that," Risak pointed out.
He said his group would continue to flush out fighters belonging to al-Shabab.
"Thanks to Allah, we have taught them a lesson today because they left at least 50 persons dead. And I think most of them are foreigners, and maybe they might be coming from South East Asia. And today they have received a good lesson. And I think they would not fight again because this is the latest casualties they have received in Gureal... and now we are moving to the capital, Mogadishu. We will continue to chase them wherever they are, and even if they are in a corner of our country, I think we would not stop our fighting," he said.
Meanwhile, Somali political analysts say there is a high possibility that the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops could usher in a new chapter of violence, adding that it may also open a window of opportunity to bring some Islamist groups into the political process and form a broad, inclusive government.
Some witnesses of Sunday's clashes between al-Shabab and Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca say at least 20 people, mostly fighters of al-Shabab, were killed.
Four Ethiopian soldiers die in Somalia blast
MOGADISHU (AFP) — Four Ethiopian soldiers were killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in the Somalian capital Mogadishu, officials and witnesses reported.
Ethiopia is in the final stages of withdrawing the last of its forces from Somalia which it invaded in 2006 to overthrow Islamic militants and bolster the transitional government and is handing over peacekeeping duties to an African Union force.
The blast took place near a Somalian army checkpoint on a road westwards out of the capital where Ethiopian troops were searching for bombs aimed at trucks carrying troops and equipment.
The four Ethiopian soldiers died instantly, according to a Somalian army officer, while an unspecified number were injured.
Fighting has raged between government and Ethiopian forces on the one hand and Shebab Islamist fighters on the other in Mogadishu and a growing number of provinces since early 2007.
In recent months the Islamists have been making progress.
Ethiopia withdrawing troops from Somalia after fulfilling mission: Ministry
Source: Ethiopian News Agency (ENA)
Ethiopia has begun pulling out its troops from Somalia as the national army successfully completed its mission in that country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed.
In its statement sent to ENA on Saturday, the ministry noted that the national defense force was sent to Somalia two years ago in order to foil a threat posed by the self-styled Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that declaring ‘Jihad war’against Ethiopia.
Ethiopian troops were able to thwart the threat within the shortest possible time, which was the top most objective of the mission.
However, Ethiopian troops remained in Somalia to maintain the prevailed peace and stability for the friendly people of Somalia in collaboration with internationally-recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of the country.
Moreover, it said, Ethiopia has been exerting utmost efforts in the diplomatic arena to encourage the African Union (AU) and the international community to play their shares towards stabilizing Somalia.
In fact, Ethiopia’s diplomatic efforts as a neighboring country and as member-state of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) at least initiated the AU to deploy peacekeeping mission into Somalia.
As per the recent accord signed in Djibouti among the TFG, peace-loving forces in Somalia and some former members of UIC who vacated from disruptive acts, Ethiopia agreed to withdraw its troops by the end of 2008.
Accordingly, the statement said, Ethiopia has begun pulling out its troops from Somalia while taking appropriate measures aimed at curbing the possible security gap in that country during the withdrawal process.
Ethiopia has begun implementing the final phase of withdrawing its troops from Somalia after Ugandan and Burundi governments agreed to deploy additional peace-keeping troops into that country.
According to the ministry, Ethiopia will fully withdraw its army from that country within the coming few days.
The Ethiopian government believes that there is a lot to be done toward ensuring peace and stability in Somalia and calls all Somali stakeholders and the international community to play their level best toward the same cause.
Ethiopia commends the Ugandan and Burundi peacekeepers as well as the peoples and governments of the two African states for their exemplary role in Somalia, the statement added.
The ministry, on behalf of the Ethiopian government and its peoples, also lauds the gallant defense force for its sacrifice made toward safeguarding the sovereignty of the nation as well as for the well-being of the people of Somalia.
“Ethiopian government will remain committed in efforts geared toward ensuring dependable peace and stability in Somalia,” according to the statement.
Somali police stations taken over
Islamist militiamen have taken over a number of abandoned police stations in the Somali capital as Ethiopian troops continue to withdraw from the city.
The militiamen said they were moving in to prevent an explosion of violence.
They are thought to support a faction that has signed a peace deal with Somalia's transitional government.
A more militant group, al-Shabab, is continuing the insurgency. Ethiopia has said it aims to ensure there is no security vacuum after it withdraws.
Separately, at least six people are reported to have died in fighting between rival Islamic factions further north.
Members of al-Shabab clashed with local supporters of a rival group - Ahlu Sunna Wal-jamaah - in Guriel, about 400km (250 miles) north of Mogadishu.
Ethiopian military forces began pulling out of Somalia on Friday after two years helping the transitional government fight insurgents.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's spokesman said the withdrawal would take several days.
About 3,400 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers from the African Union in Somalia are taking up positions vacated by the Ethiopians.
There are fears the withdrawal of the 3,000-strong Ethiopian force could lead to a power vacuum and that violence will continue despite a peace deal between Somalia's transitional government and one of the main opposition factions.
However others say the pullout, together with the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf, could make it easier for a new government to be formed.