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Archive for Wednesday, January 24, 2007

As Ethiopians begin to exit, Somalis fear turmoil

January 24, 2007

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— A long line of Ethiopian artillery, armored vehicles and trucks loaded with soldiers rolled toward the edges of Mogadishu on Tuesday, beginning a withdrawal from a fragile Somali capital that many residents fear will now slip further into chaos.

A spokesman for Somalia's transitional government, Abdirahman Dinari, said that the Ethiopians may take several weeks to complete a full withdrawal from the country and that a large force would remain on the Ethiopian side of the Somalia-Ethiopia border.

The Ethiopians chased the country's Islamic Courts movement from power last month and have remained in the capital to protect the nascent transitional government, which hardly has enough forces to secure the oceanside city.

Without the Ethiopian muscle, Somali officials have a "deep concern" about Islamic fighters who remain hidden in the city and have asserted responsibility for a recent string of attacks against Ethiopian and Somali government troops, Dinari said.

Details of a proposal to send in a peacekeeping force of 8,000 troops from other African countries are under negotiation, and many analysts doubt that number can be mustered. Dinari said an initial force of about 1,000 soldiers from Uganda probably will arrive next week, and others from South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria will follow.

"I think the international community has a responsibility to not have this vacuum," Dinari said. "Mogadishu needs a powerful force."

On Monday, European Union officials tied funding for the African Union peacekeepers to the Somali government's willingness to negotiate with certain ousted Islamic leaders, who are thought to be crucial to preventing a full-scale insurgency.

The demand infuriated the Somali government. Dinari said it only "gives the Islamic fighters a signal" to continue their attacks.

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