From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Fri Nov 28 2008 - 09:02:07 EST
Ethiopia to pull troops out of Somalia this year
Fri 28 Nov 2008, 11:29 GMT
(Adds ship's release)
By Tsegaye Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Friday it would withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of this year, piling pressure on Somalia's feuding government and African nations that had promised to send peacekeepers.
Addis Ababa has sent thousands of soldiers to support Somalia's Western-backed interim administration, whose divisions have hindered its battle against Islamist militants waging an Iraq-style insurgency.
President Abdullahi Yusuf's government wants a fully-fledged United Nations peacekeeping force to replace a small African Union (AU) mission that has been unable to stem the violence.
"The Ethiopians are at the end of their tether because of the squabbling in the interim government, which they have backed at such enormous human and financial cost," Rashid Abdi, Somalia expert at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.
He said Ethiopia also was angry at the West, which gave it tacit approval to deploy there, but then let it shoulder the burden of trying to stabilise Somalia, while also criticising human rights abuses by its soldiers there.
"I think they'll decide to pull out their forces, seal the border, then make the kind of incursions they made in the past to ensure the (Islamist rebels) do not become a serious threat."
A spokesman for Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry told Reuters that Addis Ababa had informed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, by letter on Tuesday of its decision to withdraw its military forces.
Fighting in Somalia has killed 10,000 civilians since early 2007, driven more than a million from their homes and left more than 3 million Somalis in need of emergency food aid.
The Islamists, some of whom the United States accuses of having links to al Qaeda, control most of the south of the country and have been slowly advancing on the capital Mogadishu.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi repeatedly has expressed his frustration at the failure of Somali government leaders to reconcile with each other, and with moderate members of the opposition, and this week he raised the stakes a notch.
Ethiopian troops have clashed frequently with the rebels, who control most of the south and launch near-daily attacks on government forces and AU peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.
Nearly two decades of chaos in the poor Horn of Africa country has created a breeding ground for kidnappings, banditry and rampant piracy in the busy shipping lanes offshore.
In the latest attack at sea, a regional maritime group said a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker, the Biscaglia, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden early on Friday.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, said it had 30 crew on board -- 25 Indians, three Britons and two Bangladeshis.
"I understand some of the crew managed to escape but I have no confirmation of that," he told Reuters, adding that the ship was managed by Singapore-based Ishima Pte Ltd.
Somali pirates on Nov. 15 seized a Saudi supertanker, the biggest ship ever hijacked. They are still holding it.
Hijackers also released a Greek ship, the MV Centauri, Mwangura said. The vessel with 26 Filipino crew was headed for Mombasa, Kenya, where it was expected to offload 17,000 tonnes of salt mid-September.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis and Wangui Kanina in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Michael Roddy)
© Reuters 2008. All Rights Reserved.
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