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Ethiopia redeploys troops in Somalia

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December 9, 2008 (ADDIS ABABA) --- Ethiopian troops crossed the border into Somalia on Tuesday and retaken abandoned military positions in Mogadishu, raising questions about its withdrawal plans.

Addis Ababa announced the withdrawal of its troops from the neighbouring country after two years of war against the Islamist courts in support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG). Ethiopia’s decision was in reaction to the failure of Somali officials to put aside their differences.

Somali witness stated Tuesday that Ethiopian forces had been deployed in Somalia border town of Kalabeyr in the central Hiran region after pulling out from the town three weeks ago.

It is not clear whether the move is a tactical to ensure a smooth withdrawal or a negation to its pledges.

However, a Somali military spokesperson, Dahir Dhere, said the Ethiopian soldiers intend to stop the extremist Islamist Al-Shabab group who are advancing steadily toward the capital Maogadishu.

In Mogadishu, Ethiopian troops reoccupied part of the northern district of Yaqshiid, which was evacuated five days ago.

Last week, the spokesman for the presidency of the Somali government of Somalia, Hasan Muhammad Mahmud, said that the planned withdrawal of Ethiopian troops within this month of December saddens the TFG.

He further said that Ethiopia will also be at risk since it shares a border with Somalia. "We would like to ask Ethiopia to reconsider its decision to withdraw its troops from Somalia."

He also expressed fears that the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia before the full deployment of the African Union 8000 troops could lead to civil war between Somalis and Islamist groups whose capability has increased.

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping had said they would try to persuade the Ethiopian government to delay troops’ withdrawal if the Somali politicians put an end to their internal disputes.

"This depends on the behavior of the Transitional Government of Somalia," Ping said. We hope they will understand they are there to help the country to help them and they should stop quarrelling… So we hope that this will be the case and then we can continue this operation in Somalia."

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous attempts to restore stability.

(ST)

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