June 10, 2007 (CAIRO) — The United Nations envoy to Somalia said Sunday that Ethiopia is determined to withdraw all of its troops deployed in the neighboring country to help the Somali government oust a radical Islamist militia, Egypt’s state-run news agency reported.
Francois Lonseny Fall, U.N. Secretary General’s special representative to Somalia, held talks in Cairo with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on the security and humanitarian situation in Somalia.
During the meeting, he conveyed the determination of Ethiopia - a regional military powerhouse which was vital in helping Somalia’s government drive out Islamic radicals who overrun and ruled much of the country for six months last year - to withdraw its troops, the official MENA news agency said.
Many in the predominantly Muslim Somalia have resented the presence of troops from Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population.
In a statement after the talks, Aboul Gheit praised the U.N. efforts to help Somalia attain calm, saying Egypt also will "spare no effort that will lead to restoring stability and peace to Somalia."
Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against each other. The government was set up in 2004, but has failed to assert any real control.
The latest surge in fighting this spring killed at least 1,670 people and sent at least 400,000 fleeing the capital as the government and its Ethiopian allies tried to quash an Islamic insurgency.
The government declared victory in mid May, and there has been relative calm since. But in a city teeming with guns after more than a decade of chaos, the government has declared victory before - only to have the insurgents reappear.
The U.S. has repeatedly accused Somalia’s Islamic Courts of harboring international terrorists linked to al-Qaida and allegedly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Fall, the U.N. envoy, also said after Ethiopian troops pull out, a replacement force should take charge of Somalia’s security. He didn’t elaborate but praised the Ugandan vanguard peacekeepers who started arriving in Somalia in March, as part of the African Union force. So far, the AU has 1,400 troops on the ground.
Fall gave no deadline as to when Ethiopian troops would complete the pullout.