Ethiopian troops seize a Somalian town
Oct 9, 2006 (BAIDOA) “” Ethiopian troops have seized a strategic town in Somalia, residents and Islamist militia said Monday.The move into Bur Haqaba followed deployment by Ethiopian troops in support of Somalia’s weak but internationally recognized government which has been increasingly challenged by the Islamist fighters. Bur Hagaba is 60 kilometers east of Baidoa, the only town the government controls.
“Our militia has retreated from the town as the Ethiopians moved in,” said Mohamed Ibrahim Bilial, whose militiamen are loyal to the Islamic forces. Several hundred Ethiopian troops alongside government militia rode into the town Monday morning without a shot being fired, witnesses said.
The town is perched along six hill tops, allowing forces there to control the only road from the Somali capital Mogadishu, which the Islamic movement controls, and Baidoa, 250 kilometers away.
Ethiopian officials weren’t immediately available for comment. They have in the past have denied their forces were in Somalia – though diplomats, journalists and Somalis have seen the troops. Ethiopians were seen patrolling Baidoa in 11 armored vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns Monday. Somalian government officials denied Ethiopian troops or government militiamen had taken Bur Hakaba. They accused the Islamists of spreading the claim to heighten tensions.
The Islamists oppose any outside intervention, and is particularly incensed at a role for Ethiopia, Somalia’s historic rival. “I saw government troops and a number of Ethiopian troops,” said taxi driver Salad Ali Mohamed, a Bur Hakaba resident. “Some militiamen loyal to the government joined them when they entered the town but the remainder loyal to the Islamic courts left.”
Tensions between the Islamic movement, which is expanding control over large parts of the war-ravaged country, and the weakened government are high. Both sides have accused each other of violating a tentative peace agreement signed in Khartoum, Sudan in September.
Somalia hasn’t had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.
The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order after years of lawlessness. But it has struggled to assert authority, while the Islamic movement seized the capital, Mogadishu, in June and now controls much of the south.
The move into Bur Haqaba followed deployment by Ethiopian troops in support of Somalia’s weak but internationally recognized government which has been increasingly challenged by the Islamist fighters.