Noose tightens on Somali rebels as defense minister welcomes foreign troops
Monday, 21 November 2011
By Al Arabiya with Agencies
Somalia's Islamist al-Shebab rebels faced growing encirclement by regional
armies Monday, as the war-torn nation's defense minister welcomed deployment
of foreign forces against the fighters.
"We welcome Ethiopian troops - if they have entered Somalia - and any other
country that contributes forces to fight against the Shabab militants, as
long as they do not violate our sovereignty," Hussein Arab Isse said.
Local elders at the weekend reported several convoys of Ethiopian troops
moved into Somalia's central Galgudud and Hiran regions, while witnesses
said lines of trucks also crossed via Kenya into the far south.
Hardline al-Shabab insurgents control much of southern Somalia, but are also
battling both the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and Kenyan troops
in the far south, who crossed the border last month to attack rebel
"We need help from the international community in the fight against the
al-Qaeda linked militants," Isse told reporters late Sunday, after returning
from meetings in Ethiopia.
However, Addis Ababa has continued to deny reports of what appears to be
their first large-scale troop deployment here since their 2006 U.S.-backed
invasion of Somalia.
"Ethiopia has not entered Somalia ... In the past, people might have seen
light reconnaissance teams and confused them with troop deployments,"
Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon told AFP Monday.
But Bereket also scoffed at al-Shabab threats on Sunday that the al-Qaeda
linked gunmen would "break the necks" of Ethiopian troops who crossed into
"I know of no time when al-Shebab has been short of such braggart," Bereket
said. "Ethiopia in the past has done its job and came out as per its plan -
al-Shebab knows what Ethiopia can do, so that doesn't worry us at all."
Ethiopia's 2006 invasion sparked a bloody uprising, and troops pulled out
three years later after failing to restore order in its lawless neighbor,
which has lacked a functioning government for two decades.
Soldiers from Uganda and Burundi in the 9,700-strong Africa Union force are
also fighting al-Shebab gunmen in the anarchic capital.
The decision on whether Ethiopia will send troops will be made Friday at a
heads of state meeting in Addis Ababa of the regional body, the
Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
"We are waiting for what IGAD decides and without that decision, Ethiopia is
not going to act unilaterally," Bereket said.
Eritrea wants U.N. action
Meanwhile Eritrea complained to the U.N. Security Council about Kenyan
allegations that it sent weapons to the rebels in Somalia, calling for an
independent investigation to judge the dispute.
Nairobi has accused Eritrea of flying in weapons for al-Shabaab and foreign
Minister Osman Saleh said in a letter to the Council that Eritrea was
confident an investigation would find Nairobi's "defamatory" accusations to
be baseless, and urged the United Nations to take action against Kenya in
"If, as Eritrea confidently believes, the investigation determines that
there is no basis whatsoever to the very serious and harmful accusations by
the government of Kenya, Eritrea calls on the Security Council to take
action that would redress the injustice suffered by the people and
government of Eritrea," Saleh wrote in the letter, seen by Reuters.
"Defamation of a member state of the United Nations should not be indulged
in with impunity and must not be tolerated, given its negative implications
for regional peace and security," he said in the letter, dated Nov. 16.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia, its anarchic neighbor, last month to rout
the insurgents which it blames for kidnappings of Western aid workers and
tourists on Kenyan soil, and frequent cross-border incursions.
Nairobi says it has credible information that consignments of arms were
flown to the Somali town of Baidoa from Eritrea. Kenyan officials have said
that Eritrean denials are not enough, and that it should go further and
Saleh's letter to Jose Filipe Cabral, the Security Council's rotating
president for November, gave no details on who might conduct the
investigation, nor did it say what action Eritrea wanted.
However, Eritrea's envoy to the African Union said the Kenyan allegations
should be publicly dismissed as a first step.
Kenyan officials have said the weapons consisted of shoulder-fired rockets,
grenades and small arms munitions, and that they have been moved to areas in
southern and central Somalia.
Slapped with an arms embargo, assets freeze and a travel ban for some of its
officials in 2009, Eritrea faces another round of measures over charges it
was aiding militants fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed
Asmara accuses Ethiopia of being behind the claims through a "frenzied
campaign" to isolate and weaken its government. The neighbors fought a
two-year war over disputed territory a decade ago but the frontier spat has
yet to be resolved.
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Received on Mon Nov 21 2011 - 09:10:49 EST