26 November 2006

Somalia: Fears of War Run High in Somalia As Ethiopian And Islamist Forces Face Off Near Baidoa

Mogadishu — Tension in Somalia's southern provinces where powerful Islamist fighters and government forces backed by Ethiopian troops is running high as inhabitants have been fleeing since Saturday.

Witnesses have told Shabelle Radio in Mogadishu that they had seen heavily armed forces of both sides facing off in Buur Eyle, 30 km south of Bur Hakaba district where the government forces supported by Ethiopians had occupied several times earlier but now is under the control of Islamic Courts fighters.

Fresh Ethiopian troops have been reported entering the country since Friday. Witnesses have told Shabelle they had seen huge military planes landing at an airstrip in Wajid, a district where large number of Ethiopian and Ugandan troops has reportedly alighted.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has once again said his government was determined to respond urgently and sternly if Somalia's Islamists attempt to attack Ethiopia.

In a news conference Zenawi pointed out if Islamists declared a jihad or holy war against Ethiopia, his administration would have no choice but to react with force.

Ethiopian government has been accused of having thousands of troops in neighboring Somalia to protect the tenuous interim government based in Baidoa, a small town in southern Somalia.

Ethiopia denies the accusations.

Somalia's Islamists had seized most central and southern Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu early June this year, forcefully evicting warlords after deadly battles in which nearly thousand people have passed away.

Experts fear Somalia could become a proxy battleground for Ethiopia and Eritrea that have had long unresolved rows over their borders, while Eritrea has also been blamed for bolstering Union of Islamic Courts with various types of arms and troops.

Somalia has had no government since 1991 when tribal warlords toppled former president Siad Barre.

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