Zenawi Shuns Timetable for Somalia Pullout – By Jason McLure(Bloomberg)

October 16th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rejected opposition calls to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of his country’s troops from neighboring Somalia. (more…)

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rejected opposition calls to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of his country’s troops from neighboring Somalia.

“It would not be correct to state that we will leave on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,” Zenawi told parliament in the capital, Addis Ababa, today. “We will continue to maintain our support and our presence” while Somalia leaders seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” he said.

Ethiopian troops have occupied parts of southern and central Somalia since invading in December 2006 to help the United Nations-backed interim government oust Islamist fighters. The invasion triggered an insurgency by Islamist and clan-based militias who view the Ethiopians as occupiers.

The fighting has driven more than a million people from the capital, Mogadishu, and increased the number of Somalis needing emergency aid to 3.25 million, almost half of the population in the Horn of Africa nation, 52 humanitarian agencies, including Oxfam International and Save the Children UK, said on Oct. 6.

At the time of the invasion, Ethiopia indicated that its troops would remain for only two weeks. That has stretched to two years as the Ethiopians struggle to prop up the interim government.

Zenawi, in his speech, acknowledged that diplomatic efforts to strengthen the transitional administration by allying it with moderate Islamists, clan leaders and businessmen have failed.

“There is no political readiness on the part of Somali leaders,” he said. “However, if this readiness comes we will help them.”

Jihad

Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamic militia has declared a jihad against the Christian-dominated government in Addis Ababa.

The State Department has placed al-Shabaab on its terrorism list. The George W. Bush administration has maintained that the Islamic insurgents harbor figures linked to al-Qaeda.

Zenawi said any future Somali government wouldn’t have to be allied to Ethiopia.

“If the people of Somalia have a government, even one not positively inclined to Ethiopia, it would be better than the current situation,” he said. “Having a stable government in place in Somalia is in our national interests.”

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since the 1991 ouster of former dictator Siad Barre. Foreign aid workers and journalists in Somalia are regularly kidnapped and held for ransom.

Food aid convoys are frequently attacked by militias, including those allied with the transitional government. The waters off Somalia’s coast have become the most dangerous in the world for piracy attacks, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via the Johannesburg bureau at abolleurs@bloomberg.net

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