Islamic leader claims Ethiopian troops have crossed into Somalia
JOWHAR, Somalia – The leader of the Islamic militia that seized Somalia’s capital said Saturday that 300 Ethiopian soldiers had entered the country to help his rivals, but he promised not to attack the weak government that represented his only challenge.An Ethiopian official denied Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s claims, but said his government had massed troops along the border and was monitoring the Islamic militants’ advance across the country.Ahmed said the Ethiopian troops entered the country Saturday morning through the southwestern border town of Dolow.”Ethiopia has crossed our borders and are heading for us. They are supporting the transitional federal government,” Ahmed told journalists.He also held out an olive branch to the transitional government, which currently is based in Baidoa, 155 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu. Ahmed’s Islamic Courts Union captured Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, on June 6 after months of fighting with an alliance of warlords backed by the United States.”We are willing to negotiate and work with them even though the transitional federal government did not come from the popular support of the Somalia people,” he said, noting that it was formed through international mediation in neighboring Kenya. “They were selected by our enemies in neighboring countries.”Ahmed was referring to Ethiopia, which has intervened in Somalia in the past to prevent Islamic extremists from taking power.Ethiopians were key power brokers in forming President Abdullahi Yusuf’s transitional government in 2004. Yusuf, a former warlord, had asked for Ethiopian troops to back up his government.In a statement Saturday, Yusuf said he was willing to hold talks with the Islamic Courts Union if they agree to mediation by Yemen.He said they must stop their advance and agree not to enter any more towns, and they must recognize the legitimacy of the government and the constitution.Ahmed said he had placed on conditions on talks with Yusuf and neither would he agree to any. He also repeated his objection to the deployment of African Union peacekeepers to help Yusuf’s government establish its authority.In Addis Ababa, a senior African Union official, El Ghassim Wane, said the organization’s Peace and Security Council will meet Monday to decide the details of a peacekeeping mission. Somalia’s parliament voted Wednesday for peacekeepers to help the government try to establish itself.Meanwhile, Bereket Simon, an adviser to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said troops had not entered Somalia.”Ethiopia has a right to monitor its border,” Bereket told The Associated Press without elaborating.The Islamic Courts Union, which the United States accuses of harboring al-Qaida suspects, is behind the militiamen that have swept across southern Somalia installing clan-based, religiously oriented municipal administrations.Ahmed denied Saturday that any foreigners were involved in the Islamic courts or that anyone in the courts had ties to al-Qaida.”We are a Muslim people. We want to live in a peaceful way. We want to live with the rest of the world in a peaceful way,” Ahmed said. “We are not terrorists and we do not associate with terrorists.”He said he and fellow Islamic court leaders could not understand why the United States assisted the warlords.An Islamic Courts Union spokesman, meanwhile, said the last two main warlords who lost the Somali capital to the militia fled aboard a U.S. warship Saturday.But the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols international waters off Somalia and is based in Bahrain, said it had no reports that any of its ships had picked them up.Abdi Rahman Osman, spokesman for the Islamic Courts Union, said Muse Sudi Yalahow and Bashir Rage left Mogadishu late Friday on a boat and were later picked up by the warship.U.S. officials have acknowledged cooperating with the warlords against the Islamic group.The departure of Yalahow and Rage from Mogadishu would mean the 11-member warlord-led Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has collapsed.Somalia has been without an effective central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Yusuf’s government is supported by Somalia’s neighbors, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.—Associated Press reporters Mohamed Olad Hassan and Salad Duhul in Mogadishu and Leslie Neuhaus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.
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