Ex-Somali soldiers vow to join Islamists vs Ethiopia
Thu Nov 2, 2006 MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Hundreds of former members of Somalia’s army joined the Islamist movement on Thursday, saying they wanted to defend their country against possible aggression by Ethiopia.
At a ceremony held at the dilapidated former Somali Revolution Party headquarters in Mogadishu, scores of Somali ex-soldiers in their military uniforms paraded and pledged to fight side by side with the Islamist troops.
Senior Islamist officials at the ceremony promised to include the soldiers in their payroll starting on Thursday.
“We are ready to take part in defending our country and we will be part of the Islamic Courts,” said Lieutenant Colonel Abdi Guled.
“I present to you 692 former Somali soldiers of which 44 are senior officers,” Guled added, pointing at a group of veteran fighters sitting under the harsh Mogadishu sun.
The Islamists, who took Mogadishu and a swathe of the south in June, have repeatedly accused Ethiopia of sending troops into Somalia to help President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government.
The issue of foreign troops was a source of disagreement during a third round of peace talks between the interim government and rival Islamists in Khartoum this week, forcing a postponement.
Security experts believe Addis Ababa has sent about 5,000 soldiers to help Somalia’s government counter the Islamist advance. Ethiopia insists it has only several hundred armed military trainers in Somalia.
The Somali government says the Islamists, who have declared holy war on Ethiopia, want to take Somalia by force and perhaps invade ethnically Somali regions of neighbouring countries.
A former senior Somali military officer, Abdullahi Roble, in his mid-70s, said the ex-soldiers would provide crucial help in the implementation of the Islamists’ strategy.
“We will join the fight for the defence of Somalia and I will head to the first defence line,” Roble said.
Islamist leaders present at the ceremony repeated their call for jihad against Ethiopia.
“Ethiopians came here to be buried in Somalia,” said the Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. “The responsibility lies with the Ethiopian leadership.”
Most of the war veterans seemed convinced that fighting was imminent after the Khartoum talks failed to make progress.
“It looks like war is going to break out in Somalia. … I am upset that my country is being invaded by Ethiopia,” said Nuura Wais, a former Somali army logistics officer.