The interim Somali government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) agreed on Sunday, October 26, to implement a dormant ceasefire deal, paving the way for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

“Effective 26 October 2008, ceasefire observance has been announced. It will become effective 5 November 2008,” reads the agreement cited by Reuters.

The ceasefire deal was signed in June but never respected.

“…starting 21 November 2008, the Ethiopian troops will relocate from areas of the cities of Beledweyn and Mogadishu,” says the new agreement signed in Djibouti.

“The second phase of the troop withdrawal shall be completed within 120 days.”

The areas vacated by Ethiopian troops will be left initially under the control of African Union troops in Somalia (AMISOM) which has 3,400 troops in Somalia.

It remained unclear when exactly the last Ethiopian troops would leave Somalia territory.

Formed last September, the Asmara-based ARS is an opposition umbrella for groups resisting Ethiopian forces.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence since Ethiopian and interim government troops ousted the Islamic Courts, which restored rare law and order for six months after routing a US-backed alliance of warlords in 2006.

More then 10,000 people have been killed and 1 million displaced in fighting since then.

On Sunday, at least 13 people were killed in southern Somalia in clashes with Somali and Ethiopian forces.

Ethiopia’s military intervention in Somalia was largely seen as having the blessings of Washington, which considers Addis Ababa a key African ally in its war on terror.

Somalis traditionally view Ethiopia, a Christian military giant across the border, as a rival.

Tough Sell

Under Sunday’s ceasefire accord, the interim government and the ARS agreed “to stop waging hostile campaign against each other by using the media both in the country and abroad.”

They also agreed “to call on supporters of the two parties and the Somali population to adhere and support this cessation of armed confrontation for the interest of Somalia.”

But the new deal drew immediate criticism from groups fighting on the ground.

“The agreement reached in Djibouti on Sunday is an illusion to deceive the Somalis,” said Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of a breakaway ARS faction.

“Neither the international community nor Ethiopia itself announced the complete withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.”

The US accuses Aweys of links to Al-Qaeda.

A string of previous peace initiatives and truce deals have failed to stabilize the country, which has been plagued by an uninterrupted civil war since the 1991 overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre.