Somali residents welcome Ethiopian troops after rebel rout
Sun Mar 4, 2012 1:56pm EST
BAIDOA, Somalia, March 4 (Reuters) - After three years of killings and violence under the rule of al Shabaab rebels, residents of the Somali city of Baidoa said they were happy to see the arrival of Ethiopian soldiers, whose presence they once resented.
Under al Shabaab's control, Baidoa's leaders say the city's people became poorer, conditions worsened and many were forced to flee. The return of Ethiopian troops, once seen as Christian invaders in a Muslim country, was a welcome relief.
Ethiopian and Somali troops seized the city from al Shabaab insurgents last month, in a major blow to the militants battling Somalia's weak interim government.
Somalia has been in turmoil since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since al Shabaab launched its insurgency in 2007.
"Al Shabaab colonised us for three years and 12 days. Many of us were killed, many of us were displaced and many have migrated. So we are the survivors," Mohammed Ma'alim Barhi, a clan leader, told reporters in the city 250 km northwest of Mogadishu.
"They (Ethiopian troops) have entered here three times before. Now we like them, we support them and we are with them."
Al Shabaab, which announced in February that it was merging with al Qaeda, imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law. In areas under its control, music, movies and soccer were banned and people were beheaded or had limbs amputated as punishments.
"Before, there was a strong propaganda against the Ethiopians but these three years there are many things the people saw. There was over-taxation, they are killing people," Abdifatah Mohamed Gesey, governor for Bay region, said of the insurgents.
"After we arrived here we held discussions with the elders, business people and the women's associations. They have asked us to liberate nearby towns just as we liberated Baidoa."
Gesey, who fled after al Shabaab took over the region, said people were now returning to the city to reopen businesses.