Ethiopian troops pull out of Mogadishu

Ethiopian soldiers, who moved into Somalia in 2006 to oppose the rise of Islamist militias, have pulled out of the the war-torn country's capital. A Somali government spokesman said they had "fully withdrawn".


AFP - Ethiopian troops quit the Somali capital Thursday as a withdrawal from their African neighbour gained momentum while the war-torn country's prime minister made a bid for the vacant presidency.

Residents celebrated in the dusty streets of Mogadishu after the last convoy of 30 Ethiopian trucks was seen seen heading out of the city.

A Somali government spokesman confirmed that Ethiopian soldiers had "fully withdrawn" from Mogadishu, two years after an ill-fated intervention to prop up a weak transitional government.

The force was widely dislikde and had faced war crimes allegations by rights groups. There were until recently about 3,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

"Today is like a holiday. For two years it is the first time that our capital is without the Ethiopian occupation force," Mogadishu resident Abdurahman Qooje told AFP.

The Ethiopian government said it ordered troops into Somalia in late 2006 to prevent the creation of a hardline Islamist state on its borders after Islamist insurgents had won control of most of the country.

Ethiopia announced on January 2 that it had started a final withdrawal and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Thursday that there would be no turning back.

"There is no need to rush and I suspect our troops would want to pull out without rushing," said Zenawi, speaking in Addis Ababa.

"That said the withdrawal process has begun and there is no turning back," he said, when asked about the possibility of sending Ethiopian troops back into the war-torn country.

"It would be very prudent to be alert," he added. "We have more than a decade of experience in this regard, we need to have a robust deployment of troops across the border."

Asked to assess the success of the two-year operation, the prime minister replied that with hindsight, they could have done it better. "There is always room for improvements," he said.

Human Rights Watch in December released a report which said the combatants in Somalia had inflicted more harm on civilians than on each other.

The report, which accused all sides of war crimes, said Ethiopian and government forces had tortured, raped and killed civilians and looted homes.

Meanwhile, Somalia's Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein announced he would run for the presidency in an effort to "promote peace and harmony" after winning a divisive political feud with Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who resigned as president last month after trying to sack Hussein.

"My immediate task would be to promote dialogue in order to achieve a lasting peace, if I am elected," said Hussein.

The Ethiopian withdrawal is part of a peace peace deal that Hussein, as prime minister, negotiated in October 2008 with opposition moderate Islamists during internationally backed talks in Djibouti.

Under the agreement, security responsibilities will be gradually handed over to Somali police until a UN peacekeeping force is deployed. There are 3,400 African Union peacekeepers left in Somalia.

The hardline Shebab, the main Islamist insurgent group which now controls most of southern and central Somalia, rejected the agreement and vowed to continue its armed struggle.

Somalia's parliament will on January 26 elect a president to replace Ahmed, who resigned on December 29 after having tried and failed to sack Hussein, who won the backing of parliament.

"Somalia needs more reconciliation... to have a stable government. I will also give more attention to development and reconstruction," if elected, Hussein said.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning