- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia has withdrawn all of its troops from Somalia, an Ethiopian official said Sunday, the day before Somali legislators are scheduled to vote for a new president.

Bereket Simon claimed the last Ethiopian troops had been withdrawn after crushing al-Shabab a Somali Islamist militia that nevertheless remains the strongest and most aggressive in Somalia.

The Ethiopian withdrawal began earlier this month.

“We have finally come to complete the withdrawal in the last two to three days,” he said. “We have been able to crush the clear and present danger.”

The Ethiopians chased an Islamist administration from the Somali capital in 2006 at the request of Somalia’s U.N.-backed government. Al-Shabab, which the U.S. state department says has ties to al Qaeda, was part of a broad alliance that made up the Islamic administration.

But the U.N.-backed government was weakened by infighting and corruption and failed to deliver security or basic services, even with Ethiopian military backing. It now only controls a few blocks of the capital and the parliamentary seat of Baidoa.

By contrast, Al-Shabab controls several major cities and on Saturday it launched a suicide attack on an African Union peacekeepers base that killed 14 people. It has threatened to focus its attacks on AU troops now that Ethiopian troops have left Mogadishu. Al-Shabab and other Islamist militias control most of southern and central Somalia.

One Islamist faction, which signed an ineffectual peace deal with the government last year, is expected to help elect a new Somali president Monday at a meeting of legislators in the neighboring country of Djibouti. The previous president resigned last month.

Al-Shabab, which the Ethiopians claim to have crushed, is one of the other factions that has refused to take part in the peace process or elections. They made substantial territory gains in the second half of last year, but have recently begun fighting other Islamist militias that disagree with their hardline interpretations of Islamic law.

The Ethiopians say they will maintain a military presence on their long, porous border with Somalia and reserve the right to re-enter the country if they are threatened.

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