February 06, 2008

Attack on Ethiopians Fuels Speculation of Wider War

Written by Rachelle Kliger
Published Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An attack on a group of Ethiopians in northern Somalia's Puntland region is fueling speculation that the violence in Somalia is spreading beyond the confines of the capital and the southern part of the country.
At least 15 Ethiopians were killed in the attack on Tuesday, but the details are sketchy and there are conflicting reports as to what exactly happened.
According to one account, 20 were killed and at least 80 wounded when two explosions went off in a residential area frequented by Ethiopians near the port of Bosasso.
Another report says grenades were hurled into a cinema close to the city's harbor.
Bosasso is located in Puntland, a self declared autonomous area in northern Somalia.
Migrants, many of whom are from Ethiopia, flock to this area in search of a better life.
Many use Bosasso as a launching pad for crossing the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, where they ask for asylum or reside illegally.
Unlike the rest of Somalia, Puntland has been relatively quiet and for the most part was unaffected by the violence washing across Mogadishu and southern Somalia for the past year.
However, the stability of the Puntland government has been brought into question in the last six months due to domestic disputes regarding territory and oil exploration contracts, said Richard Cornwell, a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.
"Much of this instability that has been confined to Mogadishu, may now be stretching northward into Puntland, where the local administration is very shaky" he said.
However, Cornwell urged caution in drawing this conclusion, which he said may be a little extreme.
Somalia has not had a stable government since 1991. Government forces are currently fighting remnants of Islamist armed groups that briefly took power in Mogadishu and other areas of Somalia in 2006.
They were defeated in January 2007 by government forces backed by Ethiopian troops.
These Ethiopians are regularly targeted because of their support for the government.
For some time experts have been warning that Somalia could become a battleground for a surrogate war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which have a border dispute. In this context, Addis Ababa is backing Somalia's transitional government and Asmara is supporting the Islamists.
Cornwell dismissed the notion that Eritrea was behind the attack.
"It's difficult to read into it until someone makes a claim and the rumor mill starts working overtime," he said.
He speculated that the victims of the attack could possibly be Somalis from the Ogaden area of Ethiopia. It is not impossible they were connected to the Ogadeni resistance, and that they were targeted by other Ethiopians or Puntland forces.
"It's so difficult to say who's on whose side and for how long," Cornwell said.

The Media Line