Ethiopia Deploys Troops in Somalia
Hundreds of Ethiopian troops rolled into Somalia in armored vehicles Thursday to protect their allies in this country’s virtually powerless government from Islamic militants who control the capital.
The move could give the U.S.-backed Somalian government its only chance of curbing the Islamists’ increasing power. But Ethiopia’s incursion also could be the provocation the militia members need to build public support for a guerrilla war.
“We will declare jihad if the Ethiopian government refuses to withdraw their troops from Somalia,” said a top militia official, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.
The neighboring countries are traditional enemies, although Somalian President Abdullahi Yusuf has asked Ethiopia for its support. Thousands of Somalis have taken to the streets in recent weeks to denounce witness accounts of Ethiopian troops massed along the border.
The Bush administration urged Ethiopia to exercise restraint and said the United States, European Union, African Union, Arab League and others would meet soon to consider the volatile situation.
Somalia in effect has been without a central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.
The interim government, which includes warlords linked to the violence of the past, was established with the support of the United Nations to help Somalia emerge from anarchy. But the body wields no real power, has no military and operates only in Baidoa, about 100 miles east of the Ethiopian border.
The Ethiopians, wearing their national military uniforms, deployed Thursday at the airport outside Baidoa and set up a fenced compound near the transitional president’s home in the city, witnesses said.
The militia of the Conservative Council of Islamic Courts stepped into the power vacuum in recent months, seizing the capital, Mogadishu, and most of southern Somalia.
On Wednesday, the militia was within 20 miles of Baidoa.
It began pulling back Thursday as more than 400 Ethiopian troops entered the town, witnesses said.
The Bush administration has accused the Islamists of having links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network and of sheltering suspects in the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The militia has installed strict religious courts, sparking fears that it will become a Taliban-style regime.