January 03, 2007

Eritrea warns of Somalia ‘quagmire’ for Ethiopia

Islamic courts leaders elude Somali-Ethiopian troops as Islamist kill two Ethiopian soldiers in attack.
ASMARA - Eritrea on Wednesday warned that Somalia, the scene of nearly two weeks of fierce fighting between the Ethiopia-backed Somali government forces and an Islamist movement, will turn into a "quagmire."
Information Minister Ali Abdu said the lawless nation had been turned into a battleground for international interests, including the United States' tacit backing for Ethiopia's military intervention.
"What we shall witness will be a quagmire," Ali said in Asmara.
Ali described Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as a "liar", who had no control over his involvement in Somalia because he was acting at the behest of foreign forces, notably Washington.
"First he (Meles) said his troops are not there, then he said there are only trainers for Somali security, and then we saw all his tanks and aeroplanes," Ali added.
"Then he said he would not go to Mogadishu, then he went there. Then he said they would pull out quickly, and then he said they would be part of a peacekeeping force."
"That man (Meles) is a maniac liar who doesn't think that tomorrow will come," Ali said.
"He is just acting as a simple mercenary of the US. He doesn't even know what he is going to do, because he doesn't know what instructions will come to him from his recruiters."
Analysts say Ethiopia and Eritrea, still at odds over an unresolved border row, are fighting a proxy war in Somalia.
But Ali again rejected allegations that his country sent troops to support the Somali Islamic courts and dismissed reports of any Eritrean troops captured or killed.
"Meles said there are 2,000 (Eritrean) troops (in Somalia)," Ali added. "But this is like searching for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction: keeping lying and lying and lying."
On Sunday, Eritrea accused Ethiopia of planting Eritrean identification documents in Somalia to justify claims that Asmara is participating in the conflict.
Islamic courts’ leaders elude Somali-Ethiopian troops
Somali government troops, backed by Ethiopia, said Wednesday they had so far failed to capture any Islamic courts’ leaders who have been running for two days since abandoning their last remaining stronghold.
Routed from their positions by overwhelming Ethiopian force and government troops after nearly two weeks of fighting, the Somali Islamic courts fled their last bastion, the key southern port town of Kismayo, on Monday, but had eluded their pursuers.
"We have caught none ... but we are still pursuing them," Information Minister Ali Jama said.
Jama speculated that the Islamic courts may be in a dense forest along the Kenya-Somalia border, but could not give their exact location.
"We are yet to pin-point where they are, but we believe they are hiding in the border forest," he said.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said there was no amnesty offer for the Islamic courts’ leadership.
Meanwhile an international panel on Somalia was due to meet in Berlin to discuss how Europe could help in the restoration of peace in the war-torn country.
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi was trying to get clans in the capital Mogadishu to hand in their weapons Wednesday, the second day of a 72-hour-ultimatum for a voluntary surrender of arms, Dinari said.
Authorities stood by their threat of forceful disarmament after the deadline lapses on Thursday, after no weapons were handed in on Tuesday.
Somali Islamist kill two Ethiopian soldiers in attack
Late Tuesday, an Islamic courts’ gunman attacked an Ethiopian camp in the southern Somalia town of Jilib, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Kismayo, seen as a first incident of a guerrilla campaign the Islamic courts have threatened.
At least two Ethiopian soldiers were killed and another one wounded.
"The first insurgency attack has been carried out. An armed Islamist fighter who has been hiding in the jungle ... attacked a camp in the town (and) opened fire, killing two Ethiopian armed forces," said Mohamoud Dahir Farah, the chairman of Jilib local authority.
Residents confirmed the attack, which comes a day after the Ethiopian troops supporting Somali forces seized control of the southern port town of Kismayo, the last Islamists stronghold, forcing them to flee.
Kenyan officials said four Ethiopian helicopters pursuing the Islamic courts missed their target and bombed a Kenyan border post on Tuesday. There were no casualties, but the incident highlighted the intensity of the pursuit.
Kenya deports Somali refugees
Meanwhile, Kenya, which is pressing the government and the Islamic courts to resume peace talks, has intensified aerial and ground patrols along the border to stop the Islamic courts from crossing over.
Kenyan authorities started deporting Somali refugees who had fled into the country as Nairobi tightened its frontier security, officials said.
"We have deported around 400 refugees. We put them on lorries and sent them back home," a police commander said.
Around 360 were forcefully evicted from Liboi registration centres while 40 were intercepted while trying to sneak into the country, officials said.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Tuesday said around 4,000 Somalis were stranded in the Somali town of Dhobley waiting to cross into the country.
"We are certainly disturbed by reports we are getting that people seeking asylum are being sent back because this amounts to contravention of the international humanitarian law," said Millicent Mutuli, the spokeswoman for UN refugee agency (UNHCR).


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