Ethiopian troops withdraw from key Somali neighborhood – The Associated Press

December 8th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

MOGADISHU, Somalia: Masked fighters occupied a key business district and residential neighborhood in the Somali capital Saturday, saying they had forced Ethiopian troops to withdraw and urging locals to return home. (more…)

MOGADISHU, Somalia: Masked fighters occupied a key business district and residential neighborhood in the Somali capital Saturday, saying they had forced Ethiopian troops to withdraw and urging locals to return home.

Some 100,000 people have fled the 20-square-kilometer (8-square-mile) residential area surrounding Sodonka Road, a busy business area in southern Mogadishu, amid fighting in the last month between Islamic insurgents and Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia’s shaky, transitional government.

The Ethiopians gave no reason for their departure Saturday, though they had been under pressure from rights groups to vacate civilian houses.

“We are the ones who forced the Ethiopians to withdraw from the residential areas,” one fighter told The Associated Press, giving his name only as Ahmed for fear of reprisals.

Another said the fighters were not insurgents or “Shabab,” referring to the armed wing of an Islamic Courts group that briefly took power in parts of Somalia last year. “We are mujahedeen,” he told journalists at a hastily assembled news conference, also refusing to give his name.

“Ethiopia is the enemy of Islam. They have killed our brothers and sisters. They have destroyed our property,” he said. “We killed them, but they are hiding their casualties. In the latest fighting, we have killed 350 Ethiopian soldiers.”

The claim could not be independently verified, and neither Ethiopian nor Somali officials were not immediately available to comment.

Several truckloads of armed and masked fighters rolled into the area Saturday morning, followed by hundreds of residents anxious to visit their abandoned homes and take stock of their belongings.

Until Saturday, the area had been deserted apart from Ethiopian tank and vehicle patrols.

“Most of the business centers and stores along the road were unlocked, and property worth millions of dollars stolen,” businessman Mohamed Osman Africa said.

“I am very happy the Ethiopians left us, and now I think about how I can bring my children back,” said resident Aden Mohamud. “The real happiness will come once they withdraw from entire Somalia.”

The Ethiopian troops had moved into the area in early November, following heavy fighting sparked by the murder and mutilation of some of their soldiers.

More than 100 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the fighting. Some were beheaded. Hundreds of Somalis were wounded, and hundreds of thousands fled for safety.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. An Islamist group took power in the capital of Mogadishu and parts of the south for six months last year, before being deposed by Ethiopian troops supporting the U.N.-backed government.

Many Somalis see the government as weak and corrupt, and it comes under daily attack by the insurgents, who have vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency.

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