HOME About Blog Contact Hotel Links Donations Registration
NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Defence lines dug as Somalia stand-off worsens

MOGADISHU (Reuters): Somali pro-Islamist fighters and rival Ethiopian troops supporting the interim government both dug defensive positions around their outposts, after the Islamists retook a strategic town, residents said on Monday.

Without firing a shot, pro-Islamist militia backed by Islamist fighters retook Buur Hakaba -- 30 km (20 miles) from the government's base in Baidoa -- after their allies were chased out by government troops over the weekend.

The standoff has fuelled fears that skirmishes could turn to a full-scale region-wide war as the Islamists -- who seized the capital Mogadishu in June -- extend their authority across south and central Somalia, flanking the government on three sides.

Resident Ahmed Abdi said government troops left Buur Hakaba early on Monday and were close to a government military camp.

"The local pro-Islamist militias have put a defence line 20 km from Buur Hakaba on the way to Baidoa, while the rest of the Islamic troops are in Buur Hakaba," he said from Baidoa.

At the government's biggest military camp, Daynunay -- about halfway between Buur Hakaba and Baidoa -- one resident said Ethiopian troops, which witnesses say are propping up the Western-backed government, were digging trenches.

"I can see Ethiopian troops digging trenches across the road. It looks like a defence line," said the resident, who declined to be named.

"They are using shovels and their military trucks are near them. They are so many. I can't count from where I am standing," he added, saying he knew they were Ethiopian because of their uniforms and new military vehicles.

Somali officials were not immediately available for comment.


The Islamists have long accused Ethiopia of sending troops into Somalia, but Addis Ababa denies sending anything but military advisers.

The Horn of Africa power again warned on Monday it would intervene if the Islamists attacked Somalia's government.

"We will defend the government if attacked by the jihadists," senior government official Bereket Simon said.

"If they try to overthrow the legitimate government, we will help the government," Bereket, a minister without portfolio and key ally of Zenawi, told Reuters.

Analysts and diplomats fear any conflict between the Islamists and the government could trigger regional war and give Muslim militants a new battlefront -- especially if Ethiopia enters the fray directly.

They fear any direct involvement from Ethiopia would spur arch-rival Eritrea to further back the Islamists -- an accusation Asmara denies -- and hand extremists cause to attack what many Somalis believe is a Christian imperialist power backed by the United States.

While the Islamists say their priority is to bring law and order to Somalia and have no intentions beyond their borders, critics say they harbour al Qaeda-linked extremists and are eying Ethiopia's ethnically Somali region of Ogaden.

The Islamists' growing power has frustrated the government's efforts to reimpose central rule -- the 14th attempt since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre -- in the country of 10 million.

The latest posturing comes a week before both sides were due to hold peace talks in Sudan.
Web IntelligenceSummit.org
Webmasters: Intelligence, Homeland Security & Counter-Terrorism WebRing
Copyright © IHEC 2008. All rights reserved.       E-mail info@IntelligenceSummit.org