An Ethiopian army contingent has entered parts of central Somalia Region - Report

Published on Tuesday 19th May 2009

An Ethiopian army contingent has entered parts of central Somalia where deadly clashes have raged in recent days among rival factions of Somali Islamists, Radio Garowe reports.

Ethiopian troops backed by 18 military trucks entered the central Hiran region Tuesday morning, where they set up a base at the strategic Kala-Beyr junction, witnesses said.

Kala-Beyr is a strategic crossroads that connects the southern regions to the northern region of Puntland and the Somali Regional State of eastern Ethiopia.

There was no report available as to why the Ethiopian army dispatched forces to Hiran region again, but Ethiopian troops have repeatedly crossed into the Somali border to carry out incursions and cross-border raids.

ICU officials in Beletwein, capital of Hiran, threatened to attack the Ethiopian troops but the ICU rulers are increasingly being challenged by Al Shabaab hardliners.

The arrival of Ethiopian troops in Hiran region comes at a time Al Shabaab - an Islamist militia that has rejected the Somali interim government - is increasingly flexing its muscle and capturing territory from the pro-government Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamee'a militia.

On Sunday, Al Shabaab guerrillas violently expelled the ICU rulers in Jowhar, the capital of Middle Shabelle region. Jowhar, located 90km north of the national capital Mogadishu, is the home town of UN-recognized Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. READ: Fighting among Islamists spreads, Jowhar falls

In Hiran and Galgadud regions, Al Shabaab guerrillas have been engaged in sporadic fighting with pro-government ICU and Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamee'a militias. More than 30 people have been in fighting this month in Hiran and Galgadud and thousands of civilians displaced by the violence.

The situation remains tense in Mogadishu where fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels, led by Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, has led to upwards of 130 deaths, 420 people wounded and civilians forced to flee their homes, according to the government and a human rights group.

Ethiopian troops intervened in south-central Somalia between Dec. 2006 and Jan. 2009, when an anti-Ethiopia insurgency led by Islamist rebels killed more than 16,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif's new government, which came to power in January, is the international community's 15th attempt to restore national order since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.



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