Ethiopian troops release Somali Islamic clerics

Published on Wednesday 14th May 2008

Somalia: A group of Muslim clerics in central Somalia were briefly arrested and later released by Ethiopian soldiers deployed to help restore order in the chaotic Horn of Africa country, our central regions correspondent reported.


Ethiopian troops have for the first time reportedly setup base at the main administration building in Beletwein, the capital city of Hiran region in central Somalia.

Witnesses saw the Ethiopian soldiers unload mattresses and utensils, while Ethiopian women, whom locals assumed were the soldiers’ wives, looked on.

Residents in the Beletwein neighborhoods of Lamo-Galay and Koshin have reportedly began packing their belongings and leaving the area for fear of insurgent attacks, Garowe Online report said.

Everywhere in Somalia, Ethiopian soldiers have been targeted with a barrage of shootouts, rocket fire and roadside bombings since the Ethiopian army’s invasion of southern and central Somalia in late 2006.

But locals in Beletwein were particularly perplexed by the arbitrary arrest of 15 Somali men, who were reported to be active members of Islam’s Tabliiq movement and were visiting Beletwein to spread Islam.

The 15 clerics were transported to a major Ethiopian army base in the outskirts of Beletwein, where they were questioned for a few hours before being released, sources said.

One of the released clerics confidentially told Garowe Online that the Ethiopian commanders ordered their release after failing to “link” them to any crimes.

No one, including traditional elders and local politicians, played a role in the Ethiopian commanders’ decision to free the clerics, the source added.

Last month, Ethiopian troops were accused of massacring Tabliiq clerics in the capital Mogadishu, including the shooting death of Tabliiq leader Sheikh Said Yahya inside a mosque.

Beletwein has not had a governor or a mayor since April, when former Gov. Yusuf Daboged was chased out of town by Islamist rebels.

Somali Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein has appointed a new administration to replace Mr. Daboged, with emerging reports indicating that the Ethiopian troops are securing Beletwein before new Gov. Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed takes office.