Islamic militia vows major attack unless Ethiopian troops leave within a week
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) | December 11, 2006 – A top official of Somalia’s Islamic militia vowed Tuesday to launch a “major attack” within seven days unless troops from neighbouring Ethiopia leave this chaotic Horn of Africa country.
The announcement comes amid mounting tensions between the militia and Somalia’s official government, which has struggled to assert control and has the support of neighbouring Ethiopia. The Islamic group already has hundreds of combatants within striking distance of the government base in Baidoa.
“If the Ethiopians don’t withdraw from Somalia within seven days, we will launch a major attack,” Sheik Yusuf Indahaadde, national security chairman for the Islamic group, told a news conference in the capital, Mogadishu.
A confidential UN report obtained by The Associated Press in October said there are up to 8,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia or along the border backing the government. Ethiopia has acknowledged sending military advisers, but denies sending a fighting force.
On Monday, Islamic militiamen were moving on the Ethiopian border town of Tiyeglow to try to seal the 1,600-kilometre frontier and keep out any advancing Ethiopian troops while trapping those already in Somalia.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other. A transitional government was formed two years but it has been unable to assert its authority over the country.
Since June, the Council of Islamic Courts has seized Mogadishu and taken control of much of southern Somalia. The group’s strict interpretation of Islam has drawn comparisons to the Taliban, although many Somalis credit the council with bringing a semblance of order to a country that has seen little more than anarchy for more than a decade.
The political volatility in Somalia is the latest blow to an impoverished country that is struggling to recover from the worst flood season in East Africa in 50 years.
At least 230 people have died from floods and related waterborne diseases since October in Kenya, Somalia, Rwanda and Ethiopia, according to the UN’s World Food Program. The rains were supposed to end by November, but are expected to continue through January in a region where drought left the soil so dry it was unable to absorb the deluge.