ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — The Ethiopian government on Saturday pledged not to leave a power vacuum when it completes its troop withdrawal from neighbouring Somalia in the coming days.
"Necessary steps are being taken to avoid a vacuum and relapse of the former situation of lawlessness," it said in a statement.
"Based on the agreements reached in Djibouti (in 2008), our defence forces have started implementing the decision to withdraw by the end of 2008."
The statement said that the heads of the African Union mission to Somalia (AMISOM), the military of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Ethiopian Defence Forces in Mogadishu had already met in Addis Ababa to analyse the situation and work out plans to be carried out subsequently.
Ethiopia said Friday its military withdrawal from Somalia was under way and would last several more days.
"We have already started to implement our withdrawal plan. It will take some more days. It is a process and it will take some time," Bereket Simon, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's spokesman, said.
Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 to rescue an embattled transitional administration and oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which had taken control of most of the country and started imposing a strict form of Sharia.
"As it has been confirmed that both Uganda and Burundi are willing to increase their forces in Somalia, Ethiopian Defence Forces are on the last chapter of a successful withdrawal from Mogadishu," Saturday's statement said.
"Based on this fact, all areas once patrolled by Ethiopian forces have been transferred to AMISOM and TFG troops. The government is now implementing its pledge to completely withdraw once the above mentioned is put in place."
"It is to be recalled that Ethiopian Defence Forces entered Somalia two years ago after extremist forces waged 'jihad' and posed a substantial threat to the sovereignty of our country," it added.
"The Ethiopian Defence Forces have already managed to diffuse this threat and conclude their mission successfully... also sacrificed a lot during the past two years in order to weaken the extremists and achieve lasting peace in Somalia."
There are currently 3,600 Ugandan and Burundian African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Somalia, but they are ill-equipped and under-funded and have been unable to restore stability in Somalia.
Ethiopia's pullout was agreed upon by the Somali government and the more moderate wing of the Islamist-led political opposition during UN-sponsored reconciliation talks in Djibouti.
Ethiopia's continued presence in Somalia has been the main argument used by Islamist insurgents and allied clan militias for their struggle.
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