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Ethiopian Forces Withdraw From Somalia - 2002-01-09

Sources in Somalia say Ethiopian troops have withdrawn from the northeast of the country after a three-day incursion. The Ethiopians are believed to have been training local militia opposed to the regional government.

Residents and security sources said the Ethiopian force - believed to number at least 100 soldiers - left Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland Tuesday night.

The Puntland government said the Ethiopian militiamen entered its territory backed by armored trucks and other military equipment on Sunday.

Somalia's transitional national government in Mogadishu, the capital, had called on Ethiopia to withdraw its troops.

Ethiopia denied sending any forces to the area.

But Randolph Kent, humanitarian co-ordinator for the United Nations in Somalia, said his staff reports seeing Ethiopians in Puntland. Mr. Kent worries that any political or military disruptions caused by Ethiopia could trigger what he calls a major humanitarian crisis.

"We have U.N. staff that have seen people from Ethiopia in the area but they, like ourselves, do not have any idea of what their intention is. My concern always is to ensure that the fragile stability that we've seen and the fragile economic growth that we all have witnessed are not disrupted by factors that in the final analysis could lead to a major humanitarian crisis, if, for example, these factors lead to mass displacement of people, if, for example, these factors lead to cutting off of roads which are essential for the transportation of food and other kinds of resources," Mr. Kent said.

After several years of peace, fighting broke out in Puntland late last year when ousted former president Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf tried to overthrow his replacement, Jama Ali Jama.

President Jama Ali Jama charges that Ethiopian troops entered Puntland to train Colonel Abdullahi's militiamen.

Relations between Somalia and Ethiopia have been tense for many years. Somalia's fledgling government claims that, besides the incursion in Puntland, Ethiopian troops are also crossing the border to train forces opposed to the Mogadishu government in the southern Somali region of Baidoa.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia often plays host to Somali warlords who are fighting to overthrow the government in Mogadishu.

Ethiopia maintains a strong military presence on its border with southern Somalia because the area is a stronghold for Ethiopian separatist rebels. Somali observers say Ethiopia regularly sends troops over the border to strike militants it accuses of bombings in Addis Ababa and encouraging secessionists.