Somalia claims U.S. urged Ethiopian incursion
Neighbor says it was protecting border from Somali attack
- Marc Lacey, New York Times
Sunday, June 18, 2006
(06-18) 04:00 PDT Mogadishu, Somalia -- The leader of the Islamists who now control most of southern Somalia accused the United States on Saturday of orchestrating what he called a border incursion by hundreds of Ethiopian troops.
"We want the whole world to know what's going on," Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, told reporters in the provincial town of Jowhar. "The United States is encouraging Ethiopia to take over the area."
American officials said they were not involved in an incursion, and Ethiopian authorities denied the claims that several hundred of their soldiers had entered Somalia in the southwestern Gedo region on Saturday morning.
Ethiopian officials told reporters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, that their troops had actually massed on their side of the border to prevent an incursion from the Islamists in Somalia.
"Ethiopia has a right to monitor its border," said Bereket Simon, an adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The reports touch on a very real concern in Somalia. Ethiopia has sent troops into Somalia in the past to root out suspected militants, and the Ethiopian government has distanced itself from the new Islamist administration in Mogadishu. It favors instead the fledging transitional government led by President Abdullahi Yusuf that is based well outside Mogadishu, in the provincial town of Baidoa.
It is clear, however, that the Islamists in Mogadishu now hold the bulk of the power in the country.
The militias associated with them have sealed their grip on most of the south. They first defeated Mogadishu's longtime warlords on June 6 after months of fighting that left more than 300 people dead and thousands injured.
The Islamists set up Shariah courts, based on Islamic law, across Somalia in recent years, trying to pull the country from its long decline into anarchy. They have been accused by the United States of harboring a small number of al Qaeda suspects. Islamic Courts Union leaders deny links to extremists.
On Friday, the Courts Union arranged a large demonstration in Mogadishu against plans to allow foreign peacekeepers into Somalia to quell the long spell of violence.
"We will be able to bring peace without bringing in foreign troops," said Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar, the deputy chairman of the Courts Union.
Two of the main warlords who had battled the Islamists in recent months fled Mogadishu late Friday by boat, according to news agency reports, meaning the end of the 11-member, American-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, the secular warlords' coalition. Islamic leaders said an American warship had picked them up off Somalia's coast, a claim that Navy officials disputed.
The assertions of American involvement in the border dispute and the escape of the warlords stem from efforts by the Bush administration to prevent the Islamists from taking power in Mogadishu. The CIA provided payments to warlords for their assistance in rooting out extremists within the Courts Union leadership, a controversial policy that has since been widely criticized in Washington.
Without a central government since 1991, Somalia now finds itself in unsettled times, with the fighting that has raged on the streets of the capital for so long now quelled but the future still unknown.
"I can only do what I have done," said Halima Nur, 68, who lives in a squatters' camp on the grounds of an abandoned school in Mogadishu and has buried nine of her 12 children over the last decade. "I can wait and see."
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