Ethiopia/Eritrea/Somalia: 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.