Ethiopian troops enter Somalia, breaking deal

Ethiopian troops in heavily armoured vehicles crossed into central Somalia and took control of Baladwayne town, breaking international deal, witnesses said.

Ethiopian troops enter Somalia, breaking deal

Ethiopian troops in heavily armoured vehicles crossed into central Somalia on Saturday and took control of Baladwayne town, breaking international deal, witnesses said.

The overnight incursion into the strategically important town of Belet Weyne is the first time Ethiopian troops have seized control of a town in war-ravaged Somalia since leaving the country in January as part of a peace deal.

Main armed opposition group of Somalia, al Shabaab, vows to fight against Ethiopian Christian troops on Somali soil.

Ethiopian soldiers are unpopular with the majority of Somalis, because human rights groups say they committed a string of rights abuses during their two-year occupation of the country.

Battles have been raging across central and southern Somalia in recent weeks as pro-government militia try to seize territory back from al Shabaab and another group, Hizbul Islam.

Residents said gunfire broke out in Baladwayne on Saturday as Ethiopian troops arrived alongside Somali government forces.

"At about dawn, hundreds of Ethiopian troops entered the town from different directions and we heard sporadic gunshots," resident Hassan Farah told Reuters by telephone.

"After sunrise we saw soldiers patrolling the main streets." Locals said al Shabaab fighters had withdrawn in the face of the Ethiopian advance: "Al Shabaab militia pulled out of our village before dawn. We were woken by the sound of their battle wagons," resident Halima Hassan told Reuters.

"Now a large number of government soldiers and Ethiopian forces are everywhere in the west of Baladwayne. They seem to be establishing a new base."

Routinely denial

Officials in Addis Ababa routinely deny that Ethiopian soldiers are on Somali soil, although they say they are providing security advice and training for Somalia's forces.

The Somali government military commander in the region, General Muqtar Hassan Afrah, denied the Ethiopians were in town and said only Somali troops were in Belet Weyne.

Ethiopian officials could not be reached Saturday morning for comment.

Ethiopia occupied its Horn of Africa neighbour under U.S. support at the end of 2006 to oust an Islamist ruling that was running the capital Mogadishu and much of the south.

Shabaab vows to fight against foreign forces that it see as occupiers.

The Ethiopian military officially withdrew in January, and Somali government leaders declined to comment on reports of their return. Local residents in Baladwayne said Ethiopian forces had been camped a few kilometres (miles) away for months.

The international community wants to bolster the U.N.-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, which is fighting insurgents controlling most central and southern regions.

Violence has killed more than 18,000 Somalis since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.4 million from their homes.

That has triggered one of the world's worst aid emergencies, with the number of people needing help leaping 17.5 percent in a year to 3.76 million, or half the population.

Agencies
Last Mod: 29 Ağustos 2009, 15:40
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