Monday, November 06, 2006
Reports of fierce fighting in northern Somalia have been denied by the authorities in Puntland - a region with close ties to Ethiopia.
Islamists said they had repelled an attack by forces using heavy weapons and armoured pick-ups near the border.
The semi-autonomous home region of Somali's interim president has resisted the spread of the Islamic courts who now control most of southern Somalia.
There are fears war could engulf the entire Horn of Africa region.
Puntland's local government minister told the BBC his forces were not involved in any fighting.
Union of Islamic Courts defence chief Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad Indhaade said the fighting took place near Galinsoor, about 60km south of Puntland.
"Our troops were attacked this morning by Ethiopian-backed Puntland militias," he told reporters in the capital, Mogadishu. "They ambushed our troops when they were sleeping."
Puntland has been relatively peaceful, compared to southern Somalia, which has been in the grip of warlords and militias for years and has not had a functioning national government since 1991.
The speaker of the transitional parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan is currently holding talks with the UIC in Mogadishu to try to avert conflict.
Mr Adan said before the talks, that he believed that "Somalis can pull themselves out of this crisis and they must do so themselves".
Islamist leaders say they will resume talks, but Mr Adan's visit has not been welcomed by other members of the transitional government, BBC Africa analyst David Bamford says.
He says Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf sees the speaker's move as ominous, amid concerns that it may lead to a power-sharing agreement that excludes the rest of the government.
The transitional government is based in Baidoa, 250km (150 miles) north-west of Mogadishu but the two sides' forces are reported to be just 30km apart.
Ethiopia backs the government while its rival Eritrea has been accused of arming the UIC.
Both countries deny reports they have troops in Somalia.
But Ethiopia admits having hundreds of military trainers with the government.
The UIC has rapidly taken control of most of southern Somalia since seizing Mogadishu.
The US Embassy in Nairobi is warning that Somali extremists could be planning suicide attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Islamist leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys said the reports were untrue and denies al Qaeda-links.
Source: BBC, Nov 6, 2006