Ethiopian troops begin withdrawing from Somalia

Ethiopian troops who helped Somalia's government drive out a radical Islamic militia last month began withdrawing from this Horn of Africa nation on Tuesday, a Somali government spokesman said.

"As of today, the Ethiopian troops have started to withdraw from Somalia. We are grateful that they played an important role in the restoration of law and order in the country," Abdirahman Dinari said. "They are pulling out gradually from all the regions they had entered, including the capital."

Somali troops, with crucial aid from neighboring Ethiopia, drove the Council of Islamic Courts out of the capital and much of southern Somalia in an offensive that began late last month. But violence has been breaking out due to traditional clan rivalries and resentment among Somalis over the presence of Ethiopian forces.

Somalia, a Muslim country, and Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population, fought a brutal war in 1977, reports AP.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been anxious to withdraw his forces and has urged other countries to contribute to a peacekeeping mission.

On Friday, the African Union Peace and Security Council approved a plan to send about 8,000 African peacekeepers, including nine infantry battalions, to Somalia for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the U.N. The council said the initial deployment should have at least three battalions.

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