Ethiopia completes military exit from Somalia

The Somali government said Ethiopia completed its military withdrawal on Monday after a more than two-year intervention to combat an Islamist movement in its Horn of Africa neighbour.

”The Ethiopians have fulfilled their promise. Their last troops crossed the border this morning,” said government spokesperson Abdi Haji Gobdon.

The remaining Ethiopian troops pulled out of the provincial town of Baidoa, which houses Somalia’s Parliament, on Sunday night before heading towards the border, he said.

The withdrawal of Ethiopia’s roughly 3 000 troops ushers in a new era for Somalia, with some predicting the power vacuum could herald more bloodshed but others saying it gives the nation of nine million people an opportunity for peace.

The Ethiopians entered Somalia to chase a sharia courts movement out of Mogadishu at the end of 2006.

That sparked an Islamist-led rebellion that has seen at least 16 000 civilians die and created a humanitarian disaster. The chaos has fuelled a wave of piracy offshore.

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.

The United Nations and other international players are pushing for an all-inclusive administration to include the government and moderate Islamist factions.

The first steps in that, an expansion of parliament to include Islamists and then the election of a new president, were supposed to happen in Djibouti this week.

Presidential election
But Somali legislators, meeting in Djibouti due to insecurity at home, said on Monday they were likely to vote on a motion to allow more time for electing the new president.

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.

”We have put forward a motion which states the time of the elections should be extended,” said member of Parliament Ahmed Issa Awale, adding there would be a vote on Monday.

Parliamentarians at the UN-hosted reconciliation process said they were looking for an extension of seven to 10 days.

Members of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), likely to join a new unity government, said they would like the election to be postponed by a few weeks.

The international community hopes a more inclusive Somali administration will be able to reach out to armed groups who are still fighting the interim government and targeting African Union peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.

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.

Both members of parliament and ARS members said it would make more sense to broaden the discussions to include others.

”We are for the reconciliation, but it depends on who we are going to reconcile,” member of Parliament Asha Ahmed Abdullah said. – Reuters

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