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Ethiopia Says Somalia Troop Withdrawal Completed


Ethiopia says it has completed the withdrawal of troops sent to Somalia more than two years ago to drive out Islamist extremists and restore the country's transitional federal government to power. Somalia's transitional government is still trying to establish its authority.

Communications Minister Bereket Simon says the last of the estimated force of 3,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia have returned home. VOA's Somali Service reporters in the central town of Baidoa say they saw Ethiopian troops vacating two bases in the town Sunday. The Ethiopians were said to be en route home, a trip that could take several hours.

The withdrawal of the Ethiopian soldiers leaves security in Somalia to the 3,400-strong African Union force, AMISOM, and about 10,000 government troops.

Bereket called it unfortunate that Ethiopia had not succeeded in its goal of achieving a lasting peace in its chronically unstable Horn of Africa neighbor. But in a telephone interview, he said the two year military adventure had succeeded in severely weakening the hardline Islamist extremist group al-Shabab.

"We have been able to reduce al-Shabab into simply a terrorist group," said Bereket Simon. "The bankruptcy of that terrorist group has been exposed, and they have become simply a fringe terrorist group."

However, insurgents have taken over nearly all of central and southern Somalia in recent months, except for the capital and the parliament seat of Baidoa.

Security experts had been expecting al-Shabab to stage a spectacular attack in Mogadishu in the wake of Ethiopia's pullout. On Saturday, a suicide car bomb, apparently aimed at an AMISOM checkpoint, crashed into a bus instead, killing many civilians.

The AMISOM force remains at less than half its authorized strength of eight-thousand, leading to fears that Ethiopia's withdrawal could lead to further instability in Somalia.

But AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told VOA AMISOM would not be deterred by terrorist attacks such as Saturday's suicide bombing. He expressed confidence that more battalions of troops would be promised when African leaders gather in Addis Ababa next week.

"As far as the battalions are concerned, we will be having good news, I hope, during the summit of the African Union and beyond," said Ramtane Lamamra. "So, it's very much a work in progress, and we're hopeful we will achieve our goal as far as the political process is concerned, and as far as the security process and stabilization process is [are] concerned."

Somalia's political process is at a critical stage, with lawmakers currently meeting in Djibouti in an attempt to double the size of parliament to include moderate Islamist opposition groups, and to choose a new president. The session opened Sunday with calls for unity, but African and western observers say the task of healing decades of clan rivalries and finding an acceptable power-sharing agreement will be extremely difficult.

The Horn of Africa country has not had an effective central government since 1991, when former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted.

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