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Ethiopian PM Says No Ethiopian Forces in Somalia


Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has dismissed reports that Ethiopian troops are back in neighboring Somalia, nine months after they withdrew. At a news conference, Mr. Meles also lashed out at a new report that warns of the potential for violence ahead of next year's Ethiopian elections.

Prime Minister Meles flatly rejected recent news reports saying Ethiopia is staging military incursions into Somalia to support President Sheikh Sharif's Transitional Federal Government. Some analysts have suggested the Ethiopian army's return, less than a year after it ended an unpopular two-year adventure in Somalia, is turning public sentiment against the TFG.

Mr. Meles, himself former guerrilla leader, scoffed at the notion of an accurate public opinion poll in lawless, war-ravaged Somalia.

"There are no military incursions by Ethiopia in Somalia. As for...the supposed analysis of some experts that these military incursions are weakening the TFG because they weaken the support of the TFG, how do they know whether Sheikh Sharif has lost influence over the past two months. Have they been carrying out effective polls in Somalia?" he asked. "So I don't think this kind of analysis can be taken seriously."

In a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with reporters, the prime minister had harsh words for the authors of a new report that warns of the potential for ethnic violence ahead of next year's national elections. The report by the International Crisis Group describes Ethiopia as a de facto one-party state where the lack of political space "incites opposition groups to consider armed struggle as their only remaining option".

Mr. Meles called the report "contemptible".

"I do feel that the analysis in the paper was not worth the price of the cost of writing it up," he said.

Mr. Meles served notice his government would not tolerate outside interference, as the election nears. He pointed to recent "Color Revolution" in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, describing them as coups backed by powerful foreign forces.

"Those who feel it is their God-given right how to tell others how to run their affairs are free to think so, but they should limit their practice of that idea to their own country," said Mr. Meles. "This type of financing of activities of so called Color Revolutions that are in substance nothing more than exalted coups, these we do not agree with, and we do not believe this is within the purview of partnerships between developed and developing countries."

On a positive note, Mr. Meles says he is satisfied with Ethiopia's relationship with the United States, even though the Obama administration has not appointed an ambassador to Addis Ababa and Ethiopia recently called home its ambassador to Washington.

"We have more old friends in the current administration than we had in the previous one," he said. "So, in terms of interpersonal dialogue, it's much smoother than it has been in many years. In terms of the fundamentals of that relationship, it's also solid."

Ethiopian diplomatic sources say Prime Minister Meles rejected the Obama administration's first choice as ambassador. A retired diplomat, Ambassador Roger Meece is currently serving as the interim Charge d'Affaires. An embassy official said there is no word on when a new envoy might be named.

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