Ethiopian troops leave Somalia prompting UN call for calm and timely presidential poll

The United Nations envoy to Somalia is urging local factions to ensure peace and stability in the war-ravaged country and to hasten the election of a new president as Ethiopian troops step up their withdrawal from Mogadishu two years after rolling in to support an UN-backed government.
The UN News Centre says Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah is emphasising that Ethiopia has kept the promise it made in a letter to the UN Secretary-General in November to remove its troops. He says “the ball is now in the court of the Somalis, particularly those who said they were only fighting against the Ethiopian forces, to stop the senseless killings and violence.”
Ould-Abdallah also emphasised the importance of electing a new president, the formation of a government of national unity and an enlarged Parliament.
The current Parliament has already endorsed the principle of enlarging the legislature and creating a coalition government, bringing the divided assembly together, as well as for the expanded parliament to elect a new president by the end of the month.
“Today Somalia needs and deserves an effective and representative government with wide-ranging participation, particularly from the new generation of young men and women, who are not tainted by past violence, corruption or excessive clan loyalties,” said Ould-Abdallah.
The Special Representative urged all Somalis to continue supporting the Djibouti Agreement, a pact signed in June between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) calling for an end to the conflict and the deployment of an international stabilization force to the troubled nation.
Highlighting the need to elect a president able to work closely with the Speaker and others to form a government of national unity in the next few weeks, he said, “this unity government must be able to address the security situation after the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, in close cooperation with the Somali Joint Security Forces and AMISOM [the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia] troops and, we hope, will represent a future, peaceful Somalia.”
Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991, has been plagued by fighting and humanitarian suffering for decades. Continuing instability, coupled with drought, high food prices and the collapse of the local currency have only worsened the dire humanitarian situation in recent months.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last week that the situation in Dhuusamarreeb and Guri Elle, in the central Somali Galgaduud region, remains tense following the heavy fighting that started on 27 December.
More than 40 civilians have reportedly been killed during the fighting and more than 50,000 people uprooted, many of whom had already fled earlier violence in Mogadishu.
The majority of those displaced are scattered in the surrounding villages and are in desperate need of shelter, water, non food items and food assistance. The situation for the recently displaced is further worsened by a general lack of humanitarian access in Galgaduud region due to deteriorating security.
The recent fighting has compounded an already grave humanitarian crisis in Galgaduud region, which is experiencing a serious drought in addition to hosting some 130 000 internally displaced persons from Mogadishu.
OCHA estimates that a total of 3.25 million people – or 43 per cent of the entire population – need humanitarian assistance, and around 25 per cent of the population are suffering from acute malnutrition.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) feeds more than 1.5 million Somalis every month and shipped some 260,000 metric tons of food to the impoverished nation in 2008; almost four times the amount in 2007.
The effects of drought and worsening insecurity have forced a growing number of people to seek refuge in neighbouring Kenya, where more than 65 000 new Somali refugees entered last year.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the estimated 230 000 Somalis sheltered in three congested camps in Dadaab, a northeastern province of Kenya, is expected to increase given the rapidly worsening security conditions.
Meanwhile, the UN News Centre reports over 50 000 people fleeing war and poverty in Somalia have made “the nearly always perilous and sometimes deadly voyage” in smugglers` boats across the Gulf of Aden last year, a 70% increase over 2007. At least 590 drowned, often at the hands of the smugglers, and nearly 360 others went missing.
 ”There were again many reports of people being beaten to death during the crossings in 2008, but most of the deaths were due to drowning after passengers were forced overboard in treacherous waters far off the Yemen coast in a bid by the smugglers to avoid detection by Yemen authorities,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
In another development, a UN team is currently in the region to explore how the world body can support the AU force there.
The UN News Centre says the team includes the UN Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Charles Petrie, as well as representatives from UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) and the departments of peacekeeping, field support and political affairs at UN Headquarters in New York. It will hold talks in Nairobi and Addis Ababa.
The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) have both agreed to end their conflict and have both called on the UN to deploy an international stabilisation force to the fractured country.
But Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that conditions are not yet right for a UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia. Instead, he recommends strengthening the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) through financing, logistical support, training, equipment and other reinforcements facilitated by the UN and Member States.
Mr. Ban has “undertaken a number of contacts, including with regional leaders, to ensure that AMISOM urgently receives the necessary support,” according to a statement issued by UNPOS.
In addition to discussing ways to support AMISOM, the team will also hold consultations on support to Somalia’s transitional security forces and police.
Ould-Abdallah said he was hopeful that the visit would result in concrete and swift action.