31 August 2009

Somalia: As Ethiopia Withdraws, Hiran Governor Quits Govt

Beletwein — Hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers retreated from bases around the key town of Beletwein, the provincial capital of Hiran region, with more than 20 military trucks driving west towards the Somalia-Ethiopia international border, witnesses said.

However, unconfirmed reports said some Ethiopian army units based around Janta Kundisho camp in the outskirts of Beletwein had not withdrawn yet.

Ethiopian troops advanced on Beletwein town over the weekend to assist Somali government forces retake full control of the town from insurgents, who controlled the town's western neighborhoods.

There were reports of looting during Saturday's takeover, with local sources reporting that Somali soldiers had looted businesses in the western part of Beletwein.

It is not clear why Ethiopian troops withdrew, but Addis Ababa has repeatedly denied the presence of its forces on Somali soil.


Sheikh Abdirahman Ibrahim Ma'ow, the Islamist governor of Hiran region, told a Monday press conference in Beletwein that his regional administration has withdrawn its support for the TFG in Mogadishu.

Sheikh Ma'ow said the TFG is "weak" and has "failed to implement Shari'ah law" across the war-torn Horn of Africa country. The UN-recognized TFG controls pockets of Mogadishu with the backing of a 5,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM.

Appealing to armed factions in Somalia and neighboring countries, he said: "Hiran region is not prepared for war. We are here to defend the interests of Hiran [region]."

He was asked about the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, saying: "We do not support the presence of Ethiopian troops."

Sheikh Ma'ow said he "welcomes" efforts to establish a regional administration for Hiran and called for such efforts to be "sped up."

He sent an apology and condolences to families whose businesses were looted in Beletwein's western neighborhoods, which had been the stronghold for Somali insurgents in recent weeks.

Sheikh Ma'ow was part of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militia that fought against Ethiopian troops during Ethiopia's two-year military intervention in south-central Somalia that ended in early 2009.

Hiran region has been wracked by violence among ICU rivals in recent months, especially among the pro-TFG factions and the hardliners, led by Al Shabaab.

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