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Ethiopian troops return to Somalia

February 3, 2009 (MOGADISHU) — Ethiopian troops have crossed the border heading to central Somalia, two weeks after its withdrawal from the troubled neighbor.

The Islamic Courts Union accused on Tuesday the Ethiopian troops of violating the territorial integrity of Somalia saying the re-entered from the border of Ferfer, Hiran region.

“If they do not pull out of our country, we will fight them to death,” said Ahmed Osman Abdalla, ICU commander in the town of Beledweyn.

Baladwayne residents, near the Ethiopia border, said Ethiopian soldiers had moved about 20 km into Somalia to join forces with troops of the Somali government whom the Islamist Al Shebab group ousted at the end of 2008.

Observers say the Ethiopian incursion could mean to deter Al Shebab who seized tBaidoa, the seat of the Somali government last month. The Islamists entered the town hours after Ethiopia pulled its last troops out of Somlia.

The election of the head of the Islamic courts recently generated hopes inside the country and has been welcomed by the international community. “some shades of hope have appeared in Somalia” said AU Commission chairman Jean Ping on Monday when he introduced President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed at the AU summit on Monday.

His election comes after the pullout of the Ethiopian troops, a move that had been considered a necessary condition for the political reconciliation and stability in Somalia.

In Addis Ababa, the spokesperson of the Ethiopian government Bereket Simon denied the border crossing and described the report as “wicked” and aiming at distraction of the engaged peace process in Somalia.

“The army is within the Ethiopian border. There is no intention to go back,” Simon said.

The Ethiopian government in the past said it would redeploy troops on the border warning it would re-intervene in Somalia to carry out specific mission against Al-Shebab, who are on US’s list of terrorist organizations, and return to the border.

(ST)

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