Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Somalis fear new chaos as Ethiopian troops leave


The Ethiopian troops who helped install Somalia's fledgling government in Mogadishu, its capital, began to pull out on Tuesday, officials from each country said.

Many Somalis say they now fear that a power vacuum will form and that the country will slip back into the lawlessness that has dominated it for much of the past 16 years.

"Why can't they stay?" asked Muhammad Omar Ali, a milkman in Mogadishu, as he watched truckloads of Ethiopians chug away. "They're leaving us to the bandits."

Ethiopia played a pivotal role in rearranging Somalia's internal politics last month when it sent tanks, jet fighters and thousands of troops to vanquish an increasingly aggressive Islamist movement that ruled most of south-central Somalia.

After routing the Islamist army, the Ethiopians paved the way for Somalia's transitional government, which until then was weak and divided, to take control of the country.

But the Ethiopians always insisted that they would not stay to police Somalia.

And though several African countries have mused about sending peacekeepers to help quell Somalia's volatile mix of warring clans, well-armed thugs and now a growing insurgency, a comprehensive peacekeeping force may be months away.

On Tuesday, 200 Ethiopian soldiers held a short goodbye ceremony at a defunct Somali air force base.

"We have arrived in Mogadishu in support of the transitional federal government troops," an Ethiopian commander said.

"We have successfully completed our mission. We respect the order of the Ethiopian government to withdraw from Somalia."

Some Somalis cheered.

Others said the equivalent of good riddance.

"Our enemy is finally leaving the country," grumbled Muhammad Gedi Nur, who was selling second-hand clothes on the street.

"Now we can bring back Islamic law."

Remnants of the Islamist army are suspected of the increasingly frequent attacks on transitional government soldiers and Ethiopian troops.

Despite the limited withdrawal that began on Tuesday, Ethiopian officials have reassured Somalia's leaders that many troops would remain until international peacekeepers arrive.

Western diplomats have expressed hope that the surrender to Kenyan authorities last week of Sheik Sharif Ahmed, a moderate leader of the Islamist forces, could be another solution.

As a well-respected figure among the Islamists and the influential Hawiye clan, he could help end the insurgency.

On Tuesday US diplomats said they were eager to talk to him.

"The US ambassador to Kenya plans to meet with Sheik Sharif later this week," the embassy said. "The ambassador will urge Sheik Sharif to counsel his supporters not to carry out violence and to support the development of an inclusive government."

This story has been viewed 2781 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top