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Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Sunday, 25 January 2009

Ethiopia completes Somali pullout

Ethiopian soldiers in Mogadishu
Ethiopia says its forces have ended the threat from Islamist groups

Ethiopia says it has completed the withdrawal of its troops from Somalia, two years after entering the country to fight Islamist insurgents.

Ethiopia's information minister told the BBC that the 3,000-strong force had ended the threat from the Islamists.

He said the troops had left Somalia, including the town of Baidoa from where the Somali government operates.

However a BBC reporter in Somalia quotes locals in Baidoa as saying that Ethiopians remain in barracks there.

The BBC's Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu said his information came from police officers, regional officials and local people.

But he confirmed that Ethiopian forces had pulled out of the capital, Mogadishu and other areas of southern Somalia.

Correspondents say the Islamists and other militia have won back much of the land lost to the Ethiopians in 2006.

Addis Ababa announced late last year that it would fully withdraw from Somalia by the first days of 2009, ending its mission to help the interim Somali government.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991.

About 3,400 African Union peacekeepers are taking up positions in Somalia vacated by the Ethiopians, amid concerns that Ethiopia's withdrawal could lead to further instability.

Government forces only control parts of Mogadishu and the town of Baidoa.

Power-sharing

But Ethiopian Information Minister Bereket Simon said that the extremists, known as al-Shabaab, had been so weakened they were no longer an effective force.

He said a recent suicide attack was proof that the organisation had "turned into a small terrorist group who cannot attain their goals in a democratic, peaceful and civilised way".

Meanwhile power-sharing talks have been continuing in Djibouti between the government and moderate Islamists, including the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS).

They are trying to agree on the formation of an expanded parliament - from 275 seats to 550 - to include the opposition, and how to select a new president.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the leader of ARS, said Somalia had to take the "historic opportunity" to correct "past mistakes".

"There's no excuse for Somalis to kill each other," he said.



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