Ethiopian Premier Admits Errors on Somalia

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 29, 2007

NAIROBI, June 28 -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Thursday that his government "made a wrong political calculation" when it intervened in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are bogged down in a fight against a growing insurgency.

Addressing Ethiopia's Parliament, Meles said his government incorrectly assumed that breaking up the Islamic movement that took control of most of Somalia in June 2006 would subdue the country. He also said he wrongly believed that Somali clan leaders would live up to unspecified "promises."

"We made these wrong assumptions," Meles said on a day when a roadside bomb killed two Ethiopian soldiers in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and two aid workers were shot dead in northern Somalia.

Opposition members of Parliament have accused Meles of making the same mistake in Somalia that critics say the United States made in Iraq: launching a military intervention without having a political plan.

Many Ethiopian intellectuals and political leaders opposed the intervention because they said it would inevitably create the conditions for the sort of Somalia-based terrorist attacks that Meles intended to contain by invading the country.

In December, Ethiopian forces backing Somalia's transitional government dislodged the Islamic movement, which was popular for the relative security it had brought after years of brutal warlord rule.

Ethiopia and the United States said the Islamic movement had been hijacked by extremists and accused it of harboring terrorists, including three suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, a charge the Islamic leaders denied.

Since January, fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian and Somali government troops has displaced more than half of Mogadishu's population while the humanitarian situation has deteriorated. On Thursday, Amnesty International accused Kenya of blocking 141 trucks of food and other aid headed for more than 200,000 displaced Somalis suffering from "alarming levels" of malnutrition.

Many businessmen and civil society leaders in Mogadishu say that over the past two weeks, they have been unjustly labeled "al-Qaeda" and their homes and offices have been ransacked by Ethiopian and Somali troops.

One internationally known civil society leader, Abdulkadir Nur, said that troops plundered equipment in his offices and that his colleagues and relatives had been arrested without charge.

Nur said he is simply against what he considers an Ethiopian occupation.

"I do have the right to express my personal views," he said in a statement. "And the transitional government has no right to abuse its power to destroy my livelihood, my personal property and abuse my colleagues and co-workers."

Special correspondent Kassahun Addis in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.

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