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Ethiopian Premier Says Forces To Stay In Somalia Until Situation Stabilizes
Addis Ababa, June 11, 2007 – Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said that the country's forces would only leave Somalia once the situation in the country stabilizes. He said the stand was necessitated by the fact that the AU has not been able to send troops to Somalia because of monetary constraints. The premier added that the upcoming Somali reconciliation conference was a major gain for the Horn of Africa. The following is the excerpt of an interview broadcast on Ethiopian TV on 10 June; subheadings inserted editorially
[Unidentified reporter] My first question is on the national census that was conducted in the country this week. How do you see the general process, and when will the result be announced? My next question is about the G8 summit. You yourself attended the summit. How do you view the result, and what do Africans benefit from the fact that African leaders attended the summit? Thank you!
[Meles] The census is being carried out according to plans. The enumeration itself will continue for a longer time. It is not a work of one or two days. Once enumeration is over, it requires great skill to collate the results and avail it to the beneficiaries. The results will be out after thorough analyses at various levels.
As regards the G8 summit, the participation of African leaders at the summit could be considered as important because decisions taken at a meeting of [leaders of] countries that play crucial role in the political and economic life of our world are, whether we like it or not , likely to affect all of us. So, the participation of African leaders can help to make them [G8 leaders] understand and consider Africa's interest when they make their decisions. Thus, the fact that the G8 members inviting African leaders to their summits to present their views can be considered as a big step. However, participation alone is not enough. Participation must achieve results. As far as results are concerned, there are strong and weak points. [Passage omitted: more on previous G8 summits and results]
[Unidentified reporter] Thank you honorable prime minister. There is this amount the G8 countries have promised to give to Africa. How does this money help our country in line with our government's efforts in this line? What are the major principles of the Ethiopian millennium celebrations? What is the condition of the increasing cost of living following the steps taken by the government and what measures are to be taken to supply wheat to other parts of the country like that one carried out in Addis Ababa? And my last question is what does the current situation in Somalia look like? And what was the objective of your visit to Somalia?
When the assistance the G8 countries give to Africa increases in amount and quality, Ethiopia will definitely benefit from this assistance. But when we say that we are going to bring Ethiopia to middle income level in the coming 20 or 30 years, it is not based on the imagination that we will get assistance in the amount and quality that we want. In fact it is based on our own efforts and ability, but any assistance would enhance the speed at which we would achieve this goal. If we get the assistance, well and good and if we don not, then we will not fold our hands and wait. We will do what we can on our own. Instead of taking a stand with a given figure we have limited our plans within a 20 or 30 year range. If we get assistance it would shorten this plan and if not then it does not mean that we will stop implementing our objectives, but it means it might take longer time to implement. [passage omitted: on increased cost of living and measures taken to stave off the increase].
Regarding my visit to Somalia, the objective was to meet and talk to the Ethiopian troops deployed in the vicinity of Mogadishu and to discuss the political and security situation in Somalia with relevant bodies. Hence, I was able to meet and hold discussions with the president and the prime minister of the transitional government. They have enlightened me on the security situation in Mogadishu, the peace dialogue and activities they are carrying out and their plans. I have realized that they are on the right path. I was also able to meet and hold discussions with the chairman of the peace dialogue. I was also able to meet and discuss with elders and representatives of the people of Mogadishu. They told me their plans and the support they expect from Ethiopia. So I can say I was able to have a better understanding of the situation. Our soldiers there were also able to express their opinion, explaining what they want the government to do, and things that should be done will be done in accordance with the government's directives and working procedures.
The objective of the millennium celebrations is to create an environment where the Ethiopian people can take part in unison in the process of promoting democracy and good governance in our country so as to disentangle our country from the abject poverty it is in currently.
[Unidentified reporter] Considering the prevailing situation, do you think Somalia will be stabilized soon? Moving on to Addis Ababa, besides economic problems, some housing problems are being observed in the city. Are there additional efforts the government makes to alleviate these problems?
[Meles] Well, when we say Somalia, the problem is mainly in Mogadishu. It can be said that the situation in Mogadishu is much better than before. There are still terrorists hiding and engaging in terrorist acts in Mogadishu. It can be asked whether there exists a city where there are no terrorists. There can be terrorists hiding in other cities, leave alone Mogadishu. So it is impossible to confidently say Mogadishu will be 100 per cent free of terrorists. You cannot also be sure about Addis Ababa or New York, leave alone Mogadishu. Terrorists can hide in any city. What I can say is that I believe the current level of terrorism can be greatly reduced. there are two key weapons to do that. The first is the people's resolve for peace, and this should be bolstered. The peace dialogue is crucial towards this end. Secondly, necessary security works should be done. Police recently carried out searches in the city and arrested a number of terrorists, including Ethiopian terrorists. They also recovered a number of weapons. They have intensified this operation. So I believe the security operations together with the peace dialogue can put Mogadishu in a better situation. Even now, the situation in the city is not that bad.
Attacks on Chinese oil installations
[Unidentified reporter] Thank you! Recently terrorists carried out mass killings against innocent Ethiopians and Chinese engaged in oil exploration activities in the eastern part of our country. They also carried out similar attacks in Somali Regional State against citizens out to celebrate 20 May [the 16th anniversary of the downfall of the former military regime of Mengistu Hailemariam]. What is the government doing to annihilate the terrorists once and for all to enable citizens walk safely?
[Meles] The main political task is to organize and create awareness among the masses to realize the danger and reject and fight the terrorists. The people of the regional state should be made to realize the danger and play the role expected from them. Continuous work is being done towards this end. The necessary defense and security measures should also be taken. Having completed the political task, our defense forces are now preparing for the necessary military and security actions, and that way we believe we can control terrorism in Somali Regional State. Of course, this cannot be done 100 per cent in a short period of time. It will require time, but I believe what we are pursuing is right and will bring about sustainable solution.
[Unidentified reporter] Thank you! Apart from members of the transitional government, you met and held discussions clan leaders and elders during your stay in Somalia. How determined are these people to expose the terrorists for the prevalence of peace in the country? What role will Ethiopian play for the success of the upcoming reconciliation dialogue?
Somali reconciliation conference
[Meles, passage omitted: more his meeting with elders and clan leaders] On the question what Ethiopia's role will be in the reconciliation conference, the conference belongs to the Somalis. So Ethiopia cannot and will not be a participant. Besides creating conducive security situation for the conference, our defense forces in Mogadishu, in conjunction with the transitional government's police and defense forces, can provide the necessary support. So we will not play more than that role, because it is an internal affair of the Somalis themselves.
As dialogue with rebel organizations, I have nothing different to say from what I said before. It is known that great efforts were made in 1997  regarding the OLF and ONLF [rebel groups Oromo Liberation Front and Ogaden National Liberation Front, respectively]. Great efforts were made to solve our difference through dialogue, but they failed. As regards the OLNF, Ogaden elders toured EU and the USA to resolve the problem amicable through dialogue but failed after being rejected by the ONLF leadership. Similarly, efforts were made to resolve the problem with the OLF. I personally was involved, but failed. Not only the efforts failed, but the two organizations have overtly become tools for implementation of the Eritrean government's strategy to destabilize Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa as a whole. So when we say we should create national consensus, we can only do so in the prevalence of peace, development and democracy. We should also do so in defeating anti-peace forces. The Eritrean government's strategy of destabilizing Ethiopia should not succeed. Every Ethiopian should be convinced that we should be able to safeguard our peace and focus on development.
Relations with Eritrea
[Unidentified reporter] According to VOA report today, the Isayas [Afewerki, Eritrean] government is reorganizing anti-Ethiopia and anti-Somalia forces. What is the Ethiopian government's position on this? What is the effect of the upcoming national reconciliation conference in Somalia on the east Africa region?
[Meles] We know the Eritrean government was preparing to reorganizing these anti-Ethiopia forces, whether they are Somali terrorists or Ethiopian opposition organizations serving the interests of the Eritrean government. It is not a different strategy from the one it mapped out. As long as there is a force it can use as a tool, there is no doubt that the Eritrean government will not refrain from attempting to indirectly destabilize Ethiopia. It is a matter of making sure that there are no forces that are used as tools. If the Ethiopian people rejected those forces being used as tools to carry out terrorist acts and made them arrested, the Eritrean government might organize whatever meeting it wants, but will bring about nothing. The Eritrean government's strategy of destabilizing Ethiopia can only succeed provided it has Ethiopian forces it can use as a tool. If it wants to launch a direct invasion itself, it is possible, but it knows it cannot afford.
I consider the upcoming national reconciliation in Mogadishu to be a major gain for the Horn of Africa. There are some clans which complain that they not well represented in the transitional government, and these complaints have been an excuse for terrorists. Addressing the clans' complaints will deny the terrorists an excuse.
AU troops to Somalia
[Unidentified reporter] Thank you! The proposed AU peacekeeping force has not been fully deployed to Somalia, prolonging the Ethiopian troops' stay in the country. What are the problems facing the AU and what is being done to resolve them?
[Meles] The main obstacle to the deployment of the AU peacekeeping forces is money. For instance, some 1,800 Burundian troops are readily waiting [for funds]. That is what we are being told by the AU and the Burundian government. However, they could not move because there is no money. The Ghanaian president recently confirmed to me that a battalion of Ghanaian troops is waiting for deployment to Somalia. What it is waiting for is money. So the main problem is money. Various countries had promised to provide financial assistance, but no money has been released so far.
[Unidentified reporter] Ok, thank you! The are opinions that the attacks carried out in eastern parts of our country are designed to scare away guests coming for the millennium celebrations, and to tarnish the image of the country. How do you view these opinions? What is the government doing to encourage guests to come to the country?
[Meles] There is no doubt that the terrorist acts committed in eastern and other parts of our country are acts committed to disrupt the millennium celebrations, to tarnish the image of Ethiopia and to derail our economic growth. The government has for long time been making intensive preparations to encounter security problems and it continues to do so. It is assumed that enough security preparations will have been made by the time. However, no matter how good strategy the government maps out, it will not achieve the desired results unless there are public participation. The public is expected to contribute greatly to foil the destructive plans by terrorists. The government has done the necessary preparations in time. Every resident of the city, including the youth, children and elderly people should report any suspicious thing to the relevant quarters. It is assumed that similar terrorist acts can be committed even outside Addis Ababa, and people living outside Addis Ababa should guard their millennium celebrations against exposure to the terrorists' destructive acts.
Relations with Somaliland
[Unidentified reporter] Some analysts say the new diplomatic relations Ethiopia started with Somaliland are almost as good as recognizing the latter. You also received and held talks with the president of Somaliland. Don't you think these new relations with Somaliland will affect relations with Somalia?
[Meles] There are no new relations with Somaliland. It is just the continuation of the one that existed before. We did not given official recognition to Somaliland, and it is known why we did not. However, there is an administration that administers a region and this region is a neighbor. So there is no alternative but to consult and work with a regional administration. If the people of Somalia and Somaliland want to change this [the status quo], they can change it, it is their internal affair. Once they change it, we will change. The transitional government of Somalia knows this policy. It knows that Ethiopia has no other option. So I do not think this will affect our relations with anyone of them.
[Unidentified reporter] Thank you! How long the Ethiopian troops will remain in Somalia? Does the country has the [financial] capacity for the troops to remain in case they do not complete their mission? [Passage omitted]
[Meles] Regarding our defense forces' stay in Somalia, our wish was to accomplish our mission and leave the country immediately. Thus, we withdrew majority of our troops despite some problems. However, since the police and the defense forces of the transitional government were not well organized, the situation was likely to return to where it was if our defense forces were to withdraw. Similarly, the AU could not send peacekeeping forces as speedily as it was expected. The fact that we kept contemplating withdrawing helped nothing but created the anti-peace forces a conducive environment. Thus, our defense forces will stay until they accomplish their mission, and this stance has been found to be desirable. However, this does not mean that we want or can stay in Mogadishu or in Somalia indefinitely. We want to withdraw as soon as possible. The fact that we said we would withdraw within weeks or months may have put a pressure on the AU to speed up things. However, it could not speed up what it wanted to speed up, because of circumstances beyond its control. It relies on foreign aid. The money has not been made available. So it is meaningless to pester the AU. Talk that the Ethiopian troops would withdraw gave the Eritrean-backed anti-peace forces an opportunity to adjust their plans accordingly. The Ethiopian government will make unlimited efforts for the army to accomplish its mission and find a replacement force, but it is unthinkable to stay in Somalia indefinitely. We do not even have the desire and the capacity to do that. Thank you!
Source: Ethiopian TV, Addis Ababa, in Amharic 1700 gmt 10 Jun 07
By BBC Monitoring International Reports
Source: The Financial Times Limited