[dehai-news] (Reuters) Ethiopia says AU peacekeepers to quit Somalia too


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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 08:42:26 EST


Ethiopia says AU peacekeepers to quit Somalia too Thu 11 Dec 2008, 13:10 GMT

(Adds Sheikh Aweys quotes)

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, Dec 11 (Reuters) - African Union peacekeepers in Somalia have
asked Ethiopian troops planning to leave the country at the end of the year
to help them quit Mogadishu too, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said
on Thursday.

There are 3,200 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi guarding strategic sites in
the capital, which has been the focus of a two-year Iraq-style insurgency by
Islamist rebels battling the Horn of Africa nation's Western-backed interim
government.

The withdrawal of the foreign forces could leave the door open for an
insurgent assault.

Ethiopian troops have been supporting the administration, but Meles has
become increasingly frustrated by feuding among its leaders, the financial
cost of the operation and the absence of any serious, international effort
to pacify Somalia.

Addis Ababa says it will withdraw its forces at the end of December, and
Meles said the AU soldiers wanted to leave too.

"The African Union, Uganda and Burundi have all asked us to stay behind and
provide protection for the safe passage of their troops," Meles told
parliament.

"The AU troops in Somalia are our comrades in arms, we have responsibility
to provide safe passage during their withdrawal."

Ethiopia's decision to pull out was final, he said, and he blamed the
international community for failing to fund the AU mission, AMISOM, to its
planned strength of 8,000 troops.

An Ethiopian withdrawal could create a power vacuum and leave Mogadishu
vulnerable to a takeover by the Islamists, who now control most of the south
and central regions and are camped on the outskirts of the city.

The ill-equipped AU troops would not be able to stop that, even if it were
in their mandate. Ugandan and Burundian military spokesmen were not
immediately available to comment.

SHARIF CONDEMNS FIGHTING

Some residents were cheered on Wednesday when moderate Islamist leader
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed returned to Mogadishu for the first time in two years.
His opposition faction is in U.N.-led talks with President Abdullahi Yusuf's
government.

But the rebels remain deeply divided, and witnesses said clashes between
other Islamist gunmen and pro-government forces killed at least 10 people in
the city early on Thursday.

"We attacked five government bases and even neared the presidential palace
this morning," Sheikh Abdirahman Isse Adow, spokesman for the Islamic
Courts, told Reuters.

Experts say Sharif has little influence over Islamist hardliners including
the al Shabaab group, which the United States accuses of having links to
Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

At a news conference, Sharif condemned the bloodshed and urged the
opposition to unite.

"All Islamists must stop fighting and resolve their differences at the
negotiating table," he said. "We are very disappointed with those who claim
jihad and attack Ethiopian troops who have already agreed to pull out."

A prominent Islamist hardliner, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, said Sharif's
return proved he had joined the "enemies".

"This will only fuel war and bring more harm," Aweys told Reuters by
telephone from Asmara. "You saw there was more fighting in Mogadishu this
morning and we shall not cease it."

A local rights group says the insurgency had killed 16,210 civilians since
the start of last year, when allied Somali-Ethiopian forces drove the
Islamists from the capital.

About 1 million people have been uprooted, and 3.2 million -- more than a
third of the population -- need emergency aid. The chaos has also helped
fuel an explosion of piracy offshore. (Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh
and Abdi Guled in Mogadishu; Writing by Daniel Wallis)

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