Ethiopian pullout divides Somalis but leaders move to unite

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Fresh reports from Mogadishu claim that Ethiopian troops have completely withdrawn from Somalia leaving the country in the hands of the Islamists once again.

The withdrawal is said to generate celebrations all over Somalia and Ethiopia as the Islamist forces and Mogadishu residents gathered at the empty bases, once occupied by the Ethiopian troops, singing and dancing.

All that is left in Somalia now is a small African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu and analysts believe it is not strong enough to withstand any possible danger from the Islamists, who once more control much of southern Somalia. The African Union has been struggling to pay for the initiative by Uganda, Burundi and Nigeria to send extra troops.

Other reports claim that Somalis are divided on the possible outcome of Ethiopia’s withdrawal. While some fear that the withdrawal could lead to a power vacuum, others say it could pave the way for peace. Observers and Western diplomats say the withdrawal could reduce support for insistent Islamists and lead to moderates joining a government of national unity.

Ethiopia invaded Somalia two years ago to expel Islamist forces who had conquered Mogadishu. The history of Somalia and Ethiopia is marred by distrust, animosity and war. Somalia was considered a threat to Ethiopia after it (Somalia) descended into anarchy about 15 years ago. The country was divided into armed militias and ruled by warlords.

The Ethiopian troop’s presence in Somalia was deeply frowned upon by many Somalis and as a result, different groups united in opposing them. Earlier, some analysts had indicated that the pull out could lead to a breakup of the already divided Somali governent. These fears had also been expressed by several diplomats on the continent.

During the Ethiopian presence in Somalia, some 16,000 civilians were killed in the conflict between Somalia’s transitional government and the Islamists, while an estimated million more were forced from their homes.

Meanwhile, Somali leaders, who met over the weekend at a meeting chaired by African Union’s Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra, indicated that the security situation in the volatile capital, Mogadishu, was rapidly improving.

The creation of an enlarged Somali parliament, in line with the Djibouti accord of 26 October 2008 and a separate deal on the formation of a joint cabinet bringing on board loyalists of moderate Islamist groups, will take place from 20 January.

The Somali faction leaders agreed that the formation of the enlarged parliament, that will bring on board 75 additional legislators, mainly members of the opposition, would be the first step towards the presidential election on 26 January.

The meeting, to plan the country’s troops buildup following the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops from the Horn of African nation, also reviewed the political and security situation in the country and agreed on the need to have senior state officials appointed.

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