Somalia: Heavy losses as Ethiopia deploys military tanks

December 22nd, 2006 Print Print Email Email

z MOGADISHU, Dec 21, 2006 (AFP) – Somalia’s Ethiopia-backed forces and Islamic fighters Thursday stepped up clashes near the seat of government in a deadly escalation hours after the religious movement said it was at war with Addis Ababa, witnesses and commanders said.

As residents witnessed Ethiopia tanks rushing the frontlines, east and south of Baidoa, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital, commanders said the battlefields were soaked with blood.

“I saw 10 Ethiopian tanks inside (Baidoa) town and they were heading to Daynunay area,” a flashpoint garrison town, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) to the east, Mohamed Sahal, a resident of Baidoa, told AFP.

Commanders said rival forces were reinforcing Daynunay and a second outpost Adale, 60 kilometres (38 miles) south of Baidoa.

“The fighting in Idale area is intensifying time by time. There are a lot of reinforcements from both sides,” government commander Ibrahim Batari told AFP.

“There are a lot of bodies littered on the battle ground … No one can confirm the casualities at the moment because the fighting is very heavy,” he added.

Islamic commaders said they would use all the weapons in their possession to tackle their rivals.

“I tell you that there are great losses in this fighting,” said Islamic commander Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal.

“We are enforcing our side and they are renforcing theirs too. we are getting information that Ethiopians have brought a lot of tanks into Baidoa for reinforcement,” he added.

“We are not going to spare anything, we will use all the weapons that we have,” Bilal told AFP.

The government said Wednesday it had killed “hundreds” of rival fighters and wounded hundreds while the Islamists said they had killed at least 70 enemy combatants in the deadly assaults.

Both sides acknowledged heavy casualities, but there was no independent confirmation on the figures.

Earlier, Islamist chief Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys rallied Somalis to join the war against Ethiopian forces, two days after a deadline the Islamist gave Ethiopian troops to pull out or face major attacks expired.

“All Somalis should join the war against Ethiopia,” Aweys said, a day after calling the conflict “a small incident.”

The fighting erupted early Wednesday after the deadline expired at both sides have been shelling each other with rockets, morters and machinegun fire.

Somalia has lacked an effective administration since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and the two-year-old government has failed to exert control across the impoverished nation of 10 million people.

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