Somali Islamists demand withdrawal of TPLF forces

July 21, 2006
MOGADISHU -- Somalia's powerful Islamist movement on Friday demanded the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who have moved into the town of Baidoa to protect the seat of the country's weak government.
As Baidoa residents reported the arrival of more Ethiopian military vehicles in the town overnight, the Islamists said that they could not accept their presence on Somali soil but stopped short of threatening to attack them. "We are urging Ethiopia to immediately and without delay withdraw its troops and stop interfering in Somali affairs," said Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, chair of the executive committee of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia.
"We are urging Ethiopia to just be a good neighbor," he said in Mogadishu, which the Islamists seized from a US-backed alliance of warlords last month and from where they are expanding their control.
In Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest, residents said that at least nine more large Ethiopian military vehicles carrying supplies, but no troops, moved into the town early on Friday.
"Nine big trucks arrived into Baidoa carrying logistics for the Ethiopian troops," Baidoa resident Hassan Moalim Ahmed said. "There were no soldiers in the lorries, but they had food and military items."
These followed an initial convoy of more than 100 trucks with several hundred Ethiopian soldiers that rolled into Baidoa and surrounding areas on Thursday, after Islamist militia advanced on a nearby town.
The Islamists pulled back on Thursday but not before Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi accused them of plotting to attack Baidoa and the government in violation of a truce and mutual recognition deal.
The largely powerless Somali transitional government and Ethiopia continued to deny the presence of any Ethiopian troops on Somali territory.
"This is absolute propaganda from the Islamists," Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Mohamed Nur Dinari said. "There are no Ethiopian troops in Baidoa. Anybody with the evidence should come forward.
" But a senior Somali government security source said "a few" Ethiopian troops were in Baidoa, although he insisted that they were there to train Somali troops and were not an occupying or protective force.
"A few Ethiopian officers who are here to help the government train security forces have arrived," the official said on condition of anonymity.
He insisted that the numbers were small and maintained that the situation had been exaggerated.
"The media and Mogadishu-based Islamists have blown the matter out of proportion," the security official said. "No Ethiopian troops are here to occupy Somalia.
"As a friendly neighboring country, they will assist the government to form its own forces," he said.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at1:57 AM


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