MOGADISH, Somalia (Reuters) - Fighters loyal to Somali Islamists attacked an Ethiopian military convoy on Sunday, said an Islamist source, in what might be the first skirmish between the sides in the tense Horn of Africa nation.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Islamists seized the capital, Mogadishu, in June and now controlled much of the south of the country, leaving the interim administration marooned in Baidoa, where residents said Ethiopian troops were protecting the Western-backed government.
If confirmed, it would be the first attack by the Islamists on Ethiopian troops, against whom they had declared holy war. The Islamist source, who declined to be named, said the Ethiopian convoy hit a landmine and then came under gunfire.
A security source in Baidoa said six Ethiopians were killed in the attack. This could not immediately be confirmed. Government officials were not immediately available for comment and residents could not confirm the Islamist's account.
'I heard a big explosion'
The Islamist source said: "The Ethiopians have been attacked. Two of their trucks were burnt, while another two overturned."
Residents confirmed hearing an explosion and shooting from near the southern town of Berdaale, but could not verify the cause.
Isak Ali, who lived in Yurkud village, near Berdaale, said: "I heard a big explosion and gunfire from the direction a convoy of 21 Ethiopian military trucks was passing."
He said he had seen several Ethiopian trucks pass through Yurkud in the last few days. Yurkud was on the way from the Ethiopian border to Baidoa.
Other residents said they later saw Ethiopian troops checking roads for landmines before arriving in Baidoa.
Addis Ababa had denied sending troops to Somalia although it said it had sent several hundred armed military trainers there. It said terrorists led the Islamists.
Tensions had risen between the interim administration and the Islamists, whose territorial gains had thwarted the government's aim to impose central rule on a country in chaos since 1991.
The Islamists were just 30km away from Baidoa, where residents said Ethiopian troops had dug trenches at a nearby military camp.
Both the government - the 14th attempt at central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator - and the Islamists, were vying for control of the nation of 10 million.
A third round of peace talks in Sudan between the two sides failed recently and many feared that war could spread around the Horn of Africa and possibly further south into Kenya and beyond.
Source: Reuters, Nov 20, 2006