Friday, July 21, 2006

Ethiopian troops move into Somalia.

Africa: As the Islamist groups deny they are going to attack the government.

ETHIOPIAN troops crossed into Somalia yesterday to help to defend the country’s beleaguered President from Islamist militias. They arrived in the town of Baidoa a day after the militias advanced to within 40 miles of the Government’s headquarters there. The border crossing, coupled with strong rhetoric from the Somali Government and the militias, has increased fears that Somalia is slipping closer to all-out war. John Prendergast, of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said: “We are on a precipice. If one or the other makes a more forceful move — whether the Islamists move further up the road or if the Government manages to attract foreign intervention — it could push this into war.” Ethiopia is a close ally of Abdullahi Yusuf, the Somali President, and has been increasingly alarmed by the growing strength of the militias since they seized Mogadishu last month from a US-backed alliance of warlords. The militias control much of Somalia’s south and have set up Islamic courts and imposed Sharia. The US believes that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, their leader, is a terrorist who is sheltering al-Qaeda suspects. Last month Osama bin Laden referred to Somalia as a front in the war against the US. The Ethiopian and Somali Governments denied the presence of Ethiopian troops in Baidoa yesterday. However, the denials were contradicted by people in the town. “About 25 vehicles have arrived here from Ethiopia. Some are lorries carrying troops wearing Ethiopian uniforms, so there are probably more than 100 soldiers here,” a source close to the Somali Government said.

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