" The only dialogue involving Somali population that have succeeded that I know of is the dialogue in Somaliland "
By Kaleyesus Bekele
Addis Ababa, Jan,27,2007 - At a time when Ethiopian troops have begun to withdraw from Somalia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced that Ethiopia's mission was concluded successfully.
In a press conference he gave to foreign and local journalists on Wednesday, Prime Minister Meles said that Ethiopia intervened in the situation in Somalia to protect its security and to assist the Somali people.
"As far as purely Ethiopia's aspect of the mission in Somalia is concerned, it has been concluded successfully. At present, there is no clear and present danger to Ethiopia's security coming from Somalia. As far as I know the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) does not exist. They have disbanded themselves as they left Mogadishu," Meles said.
The Ethiopian government, this week, began to withdraw its troops from Somalia The first contingent comprising about 200 soldiers left Mogadishu on Tuesday.
The government plans to withdraw its troops phase by phase. Some political analysts described the move as early withdrawal adding Ethiopia's decision to withdraw its troops before the deployment of AU peacekeeping force could create a power vacuum inside Somalia.
Meles does not share this view. "We have not based our decision to withdraw on the decision of the AU to deploy African troops. We have based our decision on our understanding and agreement with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). As the TFG consolidates its grip we withdraw. The first phase of the withdrawal coincides with the completion of disarmament and reintegration of militias of different warlords. The next phase would be discussed with the TFG and will be implemented as soon as possible," Meles said.
Asked about the arrest of some UIC officials by Kenyan authorities Meles said Sheik Sherif Sheik Ahmed, vice chairperson of the UIC, might have surrendered to the authorities in Kenya. Concerning media reports indicating that the chairperson of the UIC Sheik Dahir Aweys was negotiating with law enforcement forces to surrender, Meles said he was not aware of the reports adding he had no information about the whereabouts of Sheik Dahir Aweys.
The Ethiopian government has time and again announced that its troops have captured foreign fighters during the war against the UIC militias asked about the fate of the foreign fighters Meles said investigations on the captured foreign fighters were under way. "Quite a number of foreign fighters are under the control of the TFG. Quite a few of them are in our hands. Our law enforcement forces did not complete investigations. The foreign fighters are being interrogated by our law enforcement forces," Meles said.
Some of the foreign fighters were from friendly countries like Yemen and Sudan. "Once we complete the process of garnering as much information we can we will see what we need to do with the foreign fighters coming from friendly countries. But with regards to those who are not from friendly countries we have to deal them in a different way," Meles indicated.
Meles said that he was comfortable with the decision made by the Peace and Security Council of the AU to deploy African forces in Somalia. He expressed his hope that the decision would be reconfirmed at this week's heads of states' summit.
Countries like Uganda and Malawi have expressed their willingness to send troops to Somalia. Out of the 160 million dollars needed to finance the African peacekeeping mission to Somalia for six months only, close to 40 million dollars has been made available by the United States and the European Union.
Meles said he was also comfortable with the number countries that had offered to deploy troops in Somalia. "There are a number of countries who have publicly declared that they are eager to send troops. And there are countries I know of who are willing and able to contribute. The problem might be those who have resources may be reluctant to provide the necessary resources," he said. "If the international community chips in that is fine. If they don't it will be up to them," he added.
Regarding the Ethiopia's assistance to Somalia, Meles noted that Ethiopia was doing its level best. "We are assisting the people of Somalia to the best of our abilities. I think Ethiopians can be proud of what Ethiopia has done to help the Somali people," he added.
Meles underscored the need to engage all Somali clans and sub clans in a peaceful internal dialogue. Meles appreciated the TFG's internal dialogue plan. "The TFG has a comprehensive plan for internal dialogue with different groups which may have had problems with the TFG in the past. The only dialogue involving Somali population that have succeeded that I know of is the dialogue in Somaliland. The distinctive characteristics of that dialogue has been that it was not led, guided by external forces. That was purely internal Somali process of dialogue. Every other dialogue that has been carried out in Geneva, Addis, Khartoum, Nairobi or so on had problems," Meles said.
He further said the issue of Somaliland should be solved by Somalis through peaceful dialogue. Asked if the situation in Somalia has affected Ethiopia's relationship with Djibouti, Meles said the Djiboutian authorities had assured the Ethiopian government that Ethiopia's and Djibouti's views on the way forward in Somalia were identical. "The situation in Somalia did not affect our relationship," he assured journalists.
Ethiopian diplomats have been engaged in diplomatic activities in different countries. "We are quite successful in explaining our actions. All the countries we visited have understood the reasons why we had to intervene. Even [to] Egypt, which, according to some,` expressed some reservations in the past, through our engagement it was made very clear that it did understand our action," Meles said.
Source: Ethiopian Reporter