Sunday, October 26, 2008

Somalia Government, Islamists Agree on US-backed Ethiopian Pullout

Somali government, Islamists agree on Ethiopian pullout

MOGADISHU (AFP) - The Somali government and the Islamist opposition agreed Sunday to implement a dormant ceasefire deal, paving the way for pro-government Ethiopian troops to quit the country.

The accord calls for the ceasefire, which was first signed in June, to finally come into force November 5, said Susannah Price, spokeswoman for the UN envoy to Somalia.

The deal also calls for Ethiopian troops to pull out of areas in Mogadishu and the central town of Beledweyne by November 21, leaving them under the control of African Union troops in Somalia (AMISOM), said Price.

The agreement said "the second phase of Ethiopian troop withdrawal should be completed within 120 days," though Price was unable to say when exactly the 120-day countdown would begin.

The deal was signed by the government and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) at UN-sponsored talks in Djibouti.

The agreement resurrected a June 9 ceasefire deal between the government and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). The ARS is an opposition umbrella group dominated by Islamists and based in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.

The deal's implementation was delayed after fighting flared up across the country.

Radical Islamists have refused to accept the accord until Ethiopian forces withdraw from the country, with one leading Islamist, Hassan Dahir Aweys, rejecting the June agreement.

Aweys, who the United States has accused of links to Al-Qaeda, did not immediately react to Sunday's deal.

Previous peace initiatives have failed to stabilise the country, which has been plagued by civil war since the 1991 overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Ethiopian forces have been in Somalia since 2006 and succeeded in ousting Islamists from south and central Somalia where they had imposed Sharia law.

Islamic insurgents have waged a guerrilla war, which rights groups and aid agencies say has left thousands of civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

At least 13 people were killed in southern Somalia Sunday as insurgents battled Somali and Ethiopian forces in separate clashes, while a roadside bomb exploded near a police checkpoint, witnesses and officials said.

They also agreed "to call on supporters of the two parties and the Somali population to adhere and support this cessation of armed confrontation for the interest of Somalia," the text read.

Under the deal, African Union troops would replace the Ethiopian forces pulling out from Mogadishu and Beledweyne, while the Somali government and ARS are to assemble a 10,000-strong police force.

The African Union currently has 3,400 troops in Somalia, far short of the 8,000 force it pledged to protect government and humanitarian operations there.

"To avoid a security vacuum in areas vacated by Ethiopian forces, security will initially be the responsibility of AMISOM troops with the assistance of the TFG (transitional federal government) and ARS security, until the deployment of UN forces," the agreement said.

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