Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ethiopia/Eritrea/Somalia: Thousands of foreign troops in Somalia - UN

Oct 27 2006 Associated Press report via ST Thousands of foreign troops in Somalia - UN:
Oct 27, 2006 (NAIROBI) -- Thousands of foreign troops in Somalia could lead to "an all out war" between Somalia’s transitional government and an Islamic group that controls much of the country, according to a confidential U.N. report obtained by The Associated Press.

The confidential report, dated Oct. 26 and obtained by The Associated Press, cites diplomatic sources in estimating that "between 6,000-8,000 Ethiopians and 2,000 fully equipped Eritrean troops are now inside Somalia supporting" the internationally recognized government or the Islamic movement.

"Both sides in the Somali conflict are reported to have major outside backers," the report said, saying Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen supported the government and Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states supported the Islamic movement.

The briefing paper was written to help senior U.N. officials map out a strategy on how to provide aid to one of the most impoverished countries in the world, which has not had an effective central government since 1991.

"In order for us to do this, a clear policy of engagement with the (Islamic movement) must be put in place," the report said. "The fact is that there is new found stability in Mogadishu, extending to areas that they have begun to control, which has not been seen for many years."

One problem facing the United Nations is the listing of the Islamic movement’s leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, on a list of people with ties to terrorism. U.N. policy severely restricts how much contact U.N. officials can have with people with alleged ties to terror organizations.

The report was written as both the transitional government and the Islamic movement appeared to be girding for battle, even though they were scheduled to sit down at Arab League-mediated peace talks in Khartoum, Sudan on Monday. Government forces, supported by Ethiopian military advisers, have been digging trenches near Baidoa, the only town the U.N.-backed government controls.

The Islamic movement has deployed forces at a strategic town between Baidoa, and Mogadishu, 250 kilometers (150 miles) to the southeast.

Ethiopian officials have insisted they have only a few hundred military advisers assisting the government, but international and local officials have put the number into the thousands.

In towns and villages across southern Somalia Friday, thousands took to the streets after calls from Islamic leaders to protest Ethiopia’s backing of the virtually powerless government. Some 15,000 turned out in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The demonstrations, which featured the burning of Ethiopian flags, were also being used to recruit fighters for a holy war against Ethiopia, Somalia’s traditional rival, enrollments that will continue over the next three days.

"From this time on, we will wage a war against Ethiopians inside Somalia," top Islamic leader, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, told thousands of Somalis in their capital. "We need anyone who can give us weapons, even a dagger."

Islamic leaders have repeated called for holy war on Ethiopia, but no clashes between their fighters and Ethiopian troops have been reported.

Somalia and Ethiopia share a 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) border and fought a war in 1977.

The Somali transitional government has repeatedly accused Eritrea of arming and supporting their rivals in the Islamic movement, something that both Eritrean and Islamic officials have repeatedly denied.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-year border war that remains unresolved and the top U.S. diplomat to Africa, Jendayi Frazer, last week accused Eritrea of using Somalia to open a second front against Ethiopia.

In Washington on Thursday, U.S. State Dept. spokesman Sean McCormack called on Ethiopia and Eritrea not to further aggravate the tense situation in Somalia.

"This is a country that has been ravaged by violence and civil conflict for decades and it’s a sad story, so we would hope that countries in the region would try to play a positive role ... to not take any steps that would aggravate what is already a very tough, sad situation." he said.

The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that the flow of Somali refugees into neighboring Kenya had slowed down, but expressed concerns over reports Islamic leaders were preventing people from leaving Somalia.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ethiopia "technically" at war with Somalia -Meles

Reuters ADDIS ABABA, Oct 24, 2006:
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Tuesday Ethiopia was "technically" at war with Somalia's Islamists since they had declared jihad on his nation.

"The jihadist elements within the Islamic Courts movement are spoiling for a fight. They've been declaring jihad against Ethiopia almost every other week," Meles told Reuters in an interview.

"Technically we are at war."

AU ready for Somalia mission - Arab League pledge of $50-million to boost the Darfur mission has not yet materialised

Reuters report via Africast Global Africa Network MOGADISHU, October 24, 2006:
The African Union is ready for a controversial peacekeeping mission in Somalia but nowhere near implementing an intended 4 000 troop expansion of its stretched Darfur force, a top official said on Tuesday.

"African countries are willing to give any amount of troops for peacekeeping ... (but) I'm telling you, that might be impossible," peace and security director Geofrey Mugumya said of the proposed increase to the 7 000-strong AU force in Darfur.

Such an expansion is seen by diplomats as a stop-gap before a possible mission transfer to U.N. troops in the vast Sudanese region. Conflict there has killed an estimated 200 000 people and displaced another 2,5 million since early 2003.

Khartoum, however, opposes UN entry, the AU mission's mandate ends on December 31, and the pan-African body is struggling even to rotate current battalions, let alone add the intended six more at a cost of roughly $80-million (about R620-million).

"Sometimes you get promises (of funds), but they are not translated into reality," he said at AU headquarters in Ethiopia, saying an Arab League pledge of $50-million to boost the Darfur mission had not yet materialised.

"Here we spend most of our time smiling at donors rather than on real issues."

The AU official was more upbeat, however, about the likelihood of a Ugandan-led African peacekeeping mission in Somalia. It would be tasked with bolstering an interim government challenged by the rise of powerful Islamists.

"Ugandan forces are ready and will go if the arms embargo is lifted or modified," he said, adding that the UN Security Council was meeting in November to mull such a change, a pre-requisite for an African intervention.

The Mogadishu-based Islamists have threatened to fight any foreign troops, and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has said such an intervention would justify jihad.

But Mugumya insisted an African force would calm the situation, rather than inflame it. "What we want is to protect the Transitional Federal Government, so it does not go back to being stateless, we want to put water on the fire," he said.

"It's always consensus minus one. ... And can you get consensus from Osama bin Laden?"

Though backed by the West and the Horn of Africa's most powerful nation Ethiopia, the Somali government has little control beyond the outlying town of Baidoa which is its base.

Some diplomats say if a proposed Ugandan troop vanguard goes in, it might call the Islamists' bluff, and enable the government to rally forces from disparate militia currently lying dormant around Somalia.

Uganda has emerged as the only nation probably able to send troops to Somalia in the short-term, because most others in the east African regional body IGAD, which would head the mission in coordination with the AU, border Somalia and fear being drawn into a conflict that could spill across their own territory.

Uganda has said it could fund itself in Somalia for six months, and other funds could be found from the European Union and elsewhere to gradually increase the force to 10 000 or more, Mugumya said.

It is all theoretical, however, if the United Nations fails to alter its arms embargo on Somalia, which is, despite the embargo, awash with weapons. The country has been in chaos since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.

"You obviously can't send troops unarmed," Mugumya said.

Aspiring to provide local solutions to Africa's crises, the AU is hoping to set up a five-brigade standby force for rapid intervention by 2010.

Darfur, however, came too early, Mugumya said, so the AU would welcome a UN takeover even though it may realistically have to extend its mandate into next year.

"The AU finds itself between a rock and a hard place. If it leaves, what would happen? If we stay, do we have resources?" he said.

Often criticised for failing to stop suffering in Darfur, the AU should be credited for rapid deployments and some stabilisation against all odds, he argued.

"AU troops move fast under harsh conditions. Would UN soldiers sleep under trees like the locals?"

Friday, October 20, 2006

U.S. urges Eritrea pullback from Ethiopia buffer zone

Oct 20 2006 Reuters report:
The United States urged Eritrea on Thursday to withdraw its forces from a U.N. buffer zone along the Ethiopian border amid concerns the troops' presence there could heighten tensions in the Horn of Africa.

A State Department spokesman said Eritrea's movement of troops inside the buffer earlier this week violated a 6-year-old peace agreement and further undermined regional stability.

"The United States calls on Eritrea to respond to the October 17 statement issued by the United Nations Security Council by immediately withdrawing the tanks, troops, and accompanying artillery that breached the Temporary Security Zone on October 16, 2006," spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement.

Casey said the United States also urged both countries to comply with a 2000 peace accord that ended a two-year border war that killed more than 70,000 people.

"The United States urges both Eritrea and Ethiopia to show maximum restraint, to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other, and to avoid any action that may escalate tensions between the two countries," Casey said.

The United Nations accused Eritrea on Monday of moving some 1,500 soldiers and 14 tanks closer to Ethiopia in a "major breach" of the peace agreement.

U.N. peacekeepers monitor the 15-mile (25-km) buffer zone along the 600-mile (1,000-km) border as part of the peace agreement.

The Eritrean government defended its movement in the zone, saying it had a sovereign right over the area and the troops were there to work on development projects.

Ethiopia said it would not respond militarily to what it called a "minor provocation."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Zenawi says defected officers fear purge from the Ethiopian army

Many high-ranking officers from the Ethiopian army defected since August. They mostly joined the opposition Oromo Liberation Front bases in the neighbouring Eritrea. The most important was the defection of Brig. Gen. Kemal Geltu to Eritrea with 150 Ethiopian soldiers on 10 August.

Full story Sudan Tribune 1 Oct 2006.

Somali Islamists expand control near Ethiopian border

Oct 1 2006 Xinhua report via ST:
Fighters of Somali Islamic Courts have seized control of a strategic village in the agriculturally rich area of Lower Shabelle near the Ethiopian border, reports said on Sunday.

Fighters loyal to the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) group routed pro-government militia from the village of Jawill, some 15km from the Ethiopian border on Saturday. The only roads between Ethiopia and central Somalia pass through the village.

SCIC senior leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has vowed to seize more territories.

The Saturday's takeover is the SCIC’s second major territorial gain in nearly a week, following last Sunday’s takeover of the southern port city of Kismayo.

The SCIC have gradually expanded their influence over Somalia since defeating warlords in a battle for the capital, Mogadishu, in June.

Somalia's interim government, the 14th attempt at restoring the central rule, viewed the Kismayo takeover as breaching a ceasefire agreed at talks in Khartoum, Sudan, early this month.

The African Union recently approved a plan to send thousands of peacekeepers to the war-torn Horn of Africa country. SCIC leaders have vowed to fight the peacekeeping force if it arrives.