Home | News    Saturday 22 July 2006

Ethiopia vows to ’crush’ Somali Islamists

July 22, 2006 (ADDIS ABABA) — Ethiopia has vowed to "crush" the powerful Somali Islamic courts, a day after they threatened a holy war against Addis Ababa, which they accuse of sending troops to protect Somalia’s weak interim government.

The warning came as witnesses reported an incursion of Ethiopian troops into a second Somali town close to Baidoa, the seat of the country’s toothless government, ostensibly to protect it from any advance by the Islamists.

Residents in the town of Wajid, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the Somali-Ethiopian border, said about 250 heavily-armed Ethiopian soldiers had arrived there early in the day.

"Ethiopian troops numbering about 250 arrived in Wajid town in Bakol region," said local resident Ahmed Issa.

"They came in 30 armed vehicles and lorries," he added Saturday.

"The Ethiopian troops arrived early morning in Wajid, with heavily-armed troops securing the area where they camped," another resident told AFP on condition of anonymity.

But a district official in Wajid denied the presence of the troops.

At the same time, Addis Ababa vowed to "crush" the Islamic militia if they dared cross into its territory.

"Ethiopia has made it clear on several occasions that there is a border line they don’t have to cross, if they do they will be crushed," a senior government official told AFP on conditions of anonymity.

Ethiopia and the Somali government have denied any incursion by Addis Ababa’s troops despite numerous eyewitness accounts.

On Thursday and Friday residents of Baidoa, where the government sits for fear of violent unrest in the capital Mogadishu, said they had also spotted Ethiopian troops in their town after the government accused the Islamic union of planning an attack.

Meanwhile, a senior Somali government official called for the disarmament of the Islamists, saying they posed a threat to the government that has been unable to extert its authority across the country since relocating from exile in Kenya last year.

"The Islamic courts present a threat to the transitional federal government if they are not disarmed," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Islamic courts are part of this community.... They have no right to keep weapons," the official added.

On Friday, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) vowed a holy war against Ethiopia, a call some observers said was merely populist rhetoric.

"To me the declaration of holy war seems a sign of frustration in order to keep the momentum of the populist support," said Abebe Tadesse, a Horn of Africa watcher.

"They have to tailor some kind of mechanism to keep the momentum of the people’s support," Abebe added.

However, in Mogadishu, residents rallied in support of SICS supreme leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys in denouncing Ethiopia’s move, with some terming it a deliberate act of provocation.

"The incursion by Ethiopia is a deliberate act to provoke Somalia and to further destabilise it," said Mahamoud Abdullahi, a former police officer. "It is a move contrary to international law."

Tension between the Islamists and the government has undermined prospects for peace talks between them, amid growing international concern about a potential resurgence of fighting.

The government said it would only negotiate with the Islamists if there are international guarantees that the outcome of the talks are respected.

"We want a guarantor who will take responsibility on behalf of the Islamic courts but definitely not the courts themselves," said Salad Ali Jeeley, the deputy information Minister

Jeeley dismissed the SICS as "unpredictable" and "unreliable" and accused it of violating a truce reached in the first-round of talks held in Sudan last month.

Somalia has been wracked by lawlessness since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991 and the country of about 10 million people plunged into anarchic bloodletting.