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East African Nations Condemn Return of Hardline Islamists in Somalia


The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, a regional grouping of six East African nations, has condemned the attempt by Islamist extremists to retake control of Somalia, following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. The Somali delegate at an IGAD foreign ministers meeting warned that security is at a critical stage in his country.

The IGAD ministers issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the actions of what are described as "anti-peace groups" in Somalia. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development is a regional forum linking Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Djibouti.

The emergency meeting was called a day after Ethiopian troops completed their military withdrawal from Somalia. The Ethiopians were immediately replaced in the provisional seat of parliament, Baidoa, by the hardline Islamic group al-Shabab, which already controls a large portion of central and southern Somalia.

An al-Shabab leader was quoted as promising to restore strict Sharia, or Islamic, law, which had been in effect before Ethiopia intervened more than two years ago to prop up the country's fragile transitional government.

Ethiopia's Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, accused al-Shabab of using Ethiopia's presence in Somalia as a pretext for a campaign of violence that has left an estimated 16,000 people dead.

"Now that Ethiopian troops are completely out of Somalia, so they have a different a different agenda, leading Somalia to the verge of fragmentation. And they are leading Somalia down the drain. They must not be allowed to lead Somalia into that disaster," he said.

At the same time, the foreign minister emphasized that Ethiopia has no intention of returning to Somalia after failing to bring stability to a country that has been without a functioning government since 1991.

"I don't think Ethiopian troops are ready again to step into Somalia. That is ruled out. But we will do everything by strengthening AMISOM [the African Union Mission to Somalia] and the Somali institutions to fight anarchy and these terrorist acts inside their country," he said.

Earlier in the day, Africa's top diplomat, African Union Commission chief Jean Ping spoke confidently of adding Ugandan and Nigerian battalions to the AU's 3,500-strong peacekeeping mission in Somalia. AMISOM is working alongside 10,000 Somali security service personnel. But the combined force controls little more than a section of the capital, Mogadishu.

Ping shrugged off the fall of Baidoa to al-Shabab, saying it had been expected. He described security conditions as "less serious" than expected.

But Mohamed Jaama Ali, the top official in Somalia's foreign ministry, says he is very worried about the restoration of militant Islamic rule. "Our security assessment, the Somali situation is very critical. As you may see it, it is very critical after the withdrawal of the Ethiopian; it is very volatile and very critical," he said.

Somalia's parliament, meanwhile, is meeting in neighboring Djibouti, a day after members voted to expand from 275 to 550 the number of members of parliament to include moderate Islamists under a United Nations-mediated deal.

Lawmakers on Tuesday extended by a few days the time limit for electing a new president to replace Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who resigned under pressure last month.

The country's provisional charter gives parliament 30 days to elect a new president after the position falls vacant. That 30 day period expires on Wednesday. But the leader of a moderate Islamist opposition group that is joining the government, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, has asked for an extension to organize a campaign for the presidency.

Sheik Sharif quickly became a frontrunner in the presidential race because he has the support of a large faction of the new members in the expanded parliament.

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