Home | News    Monday 27 November 2006

Somali Islamists deploys troops near Ethiopian border

Nov 26, 2006 (MOGADISHU) — The Islamic militia that controls much of southern Somalia dispatched thousands of troops Sunday to within 15 kilometers (9 miles) of the border with Ethiopia amid increasing fears that tensions between the two sides could explode into violence.

"All our troops in the region are now ready at the front lines to face their enemy," said Mohamed Mohamud Agaweine, the military commander for the Council of Islamic Courts in central Somalia. He said thousands of Islamic fighters were in the region around Abud-waq, but did not give an exact figure.

Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation, fears the emergence of a neighboring Islamic state and has acknowledged sending military advisers here to help Somalia’s fragile government. But Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has repeatedly denied sending a fighting force, despite widespread witness accounts.

Ahemd Isse Gutaale, a reporter for local radio station HornAfrik, said the Islamists were using loudspeakers Sunday to call for people to join the holy war against Ethiopia.

"They were enrolling new volunteers and asked people to stand for the defense of their country," Gutaale said.

On Saturday, Meles said he expected legislators to back a resolution giving him authority to use military force against Somali extremists if they attack Ethiopia. He also stated that Ethiopia would not seek approval from the U.N. Security Council or any other body to defend itself militarily, saying it was Ethiopia’s "sovereign right."

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

A government was established two years ago with the support of the U.N. to serve as a transitional body to help Somalia emerge from anarchy. But the leadership, which includes some warlords linked to the violence of the past, wields no real power outside the western city of Baidoa.

The Islamic council, meanwhile, has been steadily gaining ground since seizing the capital, Mogadishu, in June. The United States has accused the group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which it denies.

Somalia has also been struggling to recover from the catastrophic floods that have also hit Ethiopia and Kenya. On Sunday, more than 200 women and children in the devastated town of Belet Weyne claimed they weren’t get enough help to deal with the disaster.

Also Sunday, a Somali reporter was arrested in Baidoa, said Mowlid Hagi Abdi, of the Somali Broadcasting Corp. It was not clear why the reporter was arrested; the government’s information minister did immediately answer his phone. Several journalists have been arrested recently for reporting about Ethiopian troops in the country, but they have been released after a few days.