From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Feb 03 2009 - 09:49:35 EST
Ethiopia troops 'back in Somalia'
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Ethiopian troops have re-entered Somalia just two weeks after pulling out,
according to witnesses.
Local officials said Ethiopian soldiers had set up a checkpoint in Hiran
region of central Somalia, some 20km (12 miles) from the border.
The Ethiopian government described the reports as false and said it had no
intention of returning to Somalia.
Islamist militias run much of central Somalia and some are loyal to the new
President, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
Ethiopian troops occupied parts of Somalia for two years after ousting the
Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from the capital Mogadishu.
The Ethiopian withdrawal was part of a peace deal agreed recently between
the government and moderate Islamists.
They left behind African Union peacekeeping troops and Somali government
soldiers in Mogadishu but analysts have said that force is unlikely to be
able to keep the advancing Islamists at bay.
"The Ethiopian forces are violating the basic integrity of Somalia again and
they entered the Hiran region only days after their government announced its
complete withdrawal from the country," UIC commander Ahmed Osman Abdalla
told AFP news agency.
Addis Ababa has said it is keeping a heavy troop presence on the border in
case of threats to its security.
But Information Minister Bereket Simon called the report that Ethiopian
troops had crossed back into Somalia a "wicked" distraction.
He told Reuters news agency: "The army is within the Ethiopian border. There
is no intention to go back."
Hardline Islamist militia al-Shabab, which is labelled a terrorist
organisation by the US, took advantage of Ethiopia's pull-out from Somalia
to boost its control of the south.
Its fighters last week grabbed Baidoa, the seat of the Somali parliament, on
the same day that Ethiopia said its soldiers had finished their withdrawal.
Al-Shabab has been holding demonstrations this week against Somalia's new
president, a moderate Islamist whom the radicals accuse of selling out to
Mr Ahmed was elected at the weekend as part of a UN-brokered plan to try to
form a unity government and bring peace to Somalia for the first time since
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