Somebody is gonna get hurt real bad.....somebody
Ethiopian troops in Somali govt town, Islamists pull back
Thursday 20 July 2006 13:34.
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July 20, 2006 (MOGADISHU) Â— Ethiopian troops Thursday sent troops into the Somali town of Baidoa, seat of the countryÂ’s weak transitional government, to protect it from a feared advance from Islamists, witnesses said.
The Islamists had advanced Wednesday to the nearby town of Buurhakana, sparking accusations from the government that they planned to attack Baidoa, but they retreated Thursday.
The witness accounts of an Ethiopian intervention were quickly denied by both Addis Ababa and SomaliaÂ’s largely powerless interim government. But residents insisted that Ethiopian soldiers had driven in with about 20 vehicles.
"More than 20 military vehicles belonging to the Ethiopian army have arrived," said one resident of Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, which the Islamists seized last month from an alliance of US-backed warlords.
"This is the first time that Ethiopian troops have been openly seen in Baidoa," another resident of the town told AFP, adding that the vehicles contained an undetermined number of soldiers, weapons and ammunition.
The residents, whose reports could not be independently verified, said the troops were being housed at a former military barracks in Baidoa, where the government is based due to insecurity in Mogadishu.
But a government spokesman vehemently denied any Ethiopian soliders were in the town and maintained the claims were part of an Islamist plot to launch an attack.
"It is absolutely false," spokesman Abdirahman Nur Mohamed Dinari told AFP. "Every time the Islamists want to attack, they start propagating rumors and manufacturing lies."
"These people are lying," he insisted. "They still have a plan to attack Baidoa."
Neighboring Ethiopia has said it is prepared to defend the Somali government from an Islamist attack but a senior foreign ministry official denied Thursday that Ethiopia had troops in Baidoa or anywhere else in Somalia.
"At this moment, we have no single soldier on Somali soil," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. But he said Addis Ababa was nevertheless closely watching "every movement of the Islamist militia."
Somali prime minister Ali Mohamed Gedi on Wednesday accused the countryÂ’s newly dominant Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) of plotting to attack Baidoa after Muslim militia advanced to a nearby town.
The Islamists denied the charge and Thursday withdrew from Buurhakana, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Baidoa, which they said they had entered to collect defecting government soldiers.
They said they had left according to plan after collecting 135 defectors and never had any intention of attacking the government.
"We left Buurhakana after our mission ended," said Sheikh Muktar Robow, the SICS deputy security chief who led the operation.
His boss, Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad, said allegations the Islamists were plotting to strike Baidoa were fiction and part of government attempts to obtain foreign intervention, particularly by Ethiopia.
"We had no plans to attack Baidoa," he told AFP in Mogadishu. "We have no such military plan, as claimed by the non-functioning government. The prime ministerÂ’s claims are a ploy to attract Ethiopian intervention."
The government has been calling for the deployment of regional peacekeepers to shore up its limited power, a step fiercely opposed by the Islamists, who have vowed to resist any foreign troops on Somali soil.
"We absolutely reject the deployment of foreign troops," Siad said.
Tensions between the Islamists and government remained high Thursday and prospects for peace talks between them remained uncertain, amid international concern about a potential eruption of fighting.
The two sides had been expected to meet in Sudan under Arab League auspices this week in a bid to calm tensions but it was unclear Thursday if the gathering would go ahead.
The situation has raised widespread fears that Somalia, which has been in the throes of chaos and without a functioning central authority for the past 16 years, could be further engulfed by violence.
The United States, which had supported a vanquished warlord alliance against the Islamists, said Wednesday it was "gravely concerned by reports that militia aligned with the Islamic courts are advancing toward Baidoa."
Washington and the Somali government accuse the Islamists of harboring Muslim extremists, including several Al-Qaeda members suspected of plotting attacks in east Africa. The Islamists reject the charges.
Somalia has been wracked by lawlessness since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, which plunged the nation of about 10 million people into anarchic bloodletting.
GediÂ’s government represents the latest in more than a dozen attempts to restore stability but has been hobbled by infighting and unable to assert control over much of the Horn of Africa nation.