Meles deploys 12,000 soldiers in Somalia – Islamic courts
Nov 2, 2006 AFP (MOGADISHU) “” Somalia’s powerful Islamic movement on Thursday claimed Ethiopia had deployed some 12,000 forces to help the transitional government as tension soared in the shattered African nation.A day after peace talks aimed at everting an all-out war collapsed in the the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the Islamists said Ethiopian forces were preparing an attack against them.
“We can confirm that there are 12,000 Ethiopian forces inside Somali territory. They are going to attack us and take our country and that will not happen by the wishes of Allah,” said Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the head of the Islamists executive committee. Ahmed said the Ethiopian troops were deployed in Bay and Bakol regions, near the base of the government in Baidoa, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“We are not going to wait any longer for Ethiopia to take hold of our territory,” Ahmed told thousands of soldiers from the former Somali army, now turned militia forces, in southern Mogadishu.
The Arab League-mediated talks in Khartoum collapsed late Wednesday after the Islamists refused to meet the government for a face-to-face dialogue until the Ethiopian forces are withdrawn.The government rejected mediators’ call for a formal postponement, thus putting the talks on indefinite hold.”Our conditions were justified. We are not going to accept what is not in our interest. We are going to defend our religion and land because Ethiopia is to blame for the collapse of the talks,” Ahmed added.
Largely Christian Ethiopia denies a claim it has as many as 8,000 soldiers in Somalia, according to an independent UN report, but acknowledges sending military advisers to help protect the government from “jihadists”, some of whom are accused of links with Al-Qaeda.
The Islamists have declared an “holy war” on the Ethiopians.
At the same time, the government maintains the Islamists are receiving support from Eritrea, which has denied taking sides in Somalia and angrily rejected allegations it has some 2,000 troops in that country. Witnesses reported that rival forces were mounting defence a 20-kilometer (12-mile) no-man’s land separating them near Baidoa as hundreds of civilians in nearby villages fled. Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and a national administration formed in Kenya two years ago has failed to exert its authority.
More than a dozen internationally backed attempts have failed to restore peace in Somalia, a lawless nation of about 10 million people that has also been ravaged by natural calamities, notably famine and floods.