A mysterious Russian-built cargo plane believed to be loaded with weapons landed here Wednesday, setting off a fresh round of allegations that Somalia has become a proxy battleground for its neighbors Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The United States and other Western powers have cautioned outsiders against meddling in Somalia, which has no single ruling authority and can be manipulated by anyone with money and guns. But there's little sign that the warning has been heeded.
The virtually powerless Somalian transitional government charged Wednesday that the Ilyushin 76, only the second flight to land at Mogadishu International Airport in a decade, was packed with land mines, bombs and guns. It said the shipment had come from Eritrea, which supports the Islamic militia that has seized the capital, along with most of southern Somalia.
Hours later, a U.N. envoy confirmed that troops from Ethiopia, Eritrea's enemy, were in Somalia to protect the defenseless government from the advancing Islamic forces.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody border war from 1998 to 2000, and have since backed rebel groups to destabilize each other. Somalia could become a new front in their conflict.
"Ethiopia and Eritrea are competing throughout the region, opening up new fronts in their cold war whenever the opportunity arises," said John Prendergast, a senior advisor with the International Crisis Group, which monitors conflict zones.