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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Somali militia cites Ethiopian presence

NAIROBI, Kenya - Officials with the Islamic militia controlling much of southern Somalia alleged that Ethiopian troops had arrived in the country Sunday to bolster Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed transitional government.

The charge could not immediately be confirmed but showed the continuing tensions between the militia and the government.

Two militia officials said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue, that an unknown number of troops crossed the border before dawn and passed through several towns on their way to Baidoa, where President Abdullahi Yusuf's transitional government is based.

Though Ethiopia and Somalia view each other as enemies, having fought a 1977-78 war, Yusuf is a longtime ally of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian and Somali officials have denied the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, despite witness accounts of the soldiers entering in late July to protect the transitional government.

Meanwhile, officials of the transitional government said they have reached an agreement to work with Eritrea's Liberation Front rebel group after reports — including one from a committee monitoring a 1992 U.N. arms embargo — that the Eritrean government was supporting Somalia's Islamic militia or groups allied with it.

Eritrea has denied those charges.

The Eritrean rebel group, based in Sudan, is one of several opposing Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, whose government has clamped down on opposition and backtracked on promises to turn Eritrea into a multiparty democracy.

Somalia has not had a national army or police force since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, pulling the country into anarchy.

In June, Islamic militiamen took over the capital and then seized control of much of southern Somalia. Yusuf's government has been unable to assert its authority beyond Baidoa.

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