Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reuters: Ethiopian troops cross deeper into Somalia

Jun 12, 2009 - by Abdi Guled

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Heavily-armed Ethiopian soldiers crossed into central Somalia on Friday and entered a town controlled by a pro-government militia nearly 30 kms (19 miles) from the border, residents said.

"They came with battle wagons and trucks all full of soldiers and guns," said Hassan Abdi, a resident in the town of Balanbale in Galgadud region. "Everybody is very worried."

Residents said the Ethiopian troops were setting up positions in the center of the town.

Ethiopia sent thousands of troops into Somalia in 2006 to help topple an Islamist movement holding Mogadishu and most of the south. That drew protests from some in the Muslim world and enraged the Islamists, who regrouped to launch an insurgency.

The Ethiopian soldiers withdrew in January but residents, insurgents and humanitarian organizations have reported new incursions in the past few months.

Addis Ababa initially denied any soldiers had crossed into Somalia but said earlier this month that military personnel had been carrying out "reconnaissance" missions into its neighbor.

"Ethiopia has no intention to go back into Somalia. That is the standing position of our government," the Ethiopian government's head of information, Bereket Simon, told Reuters on Friday when asked about reports of new incursions.

People living in the southwestern Somali region of Bakool, which is controlled by hardline Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, said Ethiopian troops moved into a village called Washaga on Friday and residents were fleeing.

"I'm now packed up to leave the village, al Shabaab and the Ethiopians are close to each other and on the verge of fighting," said resident Fatima Isaq Madey.