[dehai-news] (VOA) Ethiopian Army Sets Up New Bases in Somalia


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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Mon Dec 08 2008 - 15:13:17 EST


  Ethiopian Army Sets Up New Bases in Somalia By Alisha Ryu
Nairobi
*08 December 2008*

The Ethiopian army, which had announced it would pull out of Somalia by the
end of the year, is reportedly establishing new bases in central Somalia and
has yet to withdraw from key positions in the capital Mogadishu. In recent
days, Addis Ababa has hinted it would extend the deployment of its forces in
response to intensified efforts by militant Islamists to take over key
towns.

Somali journalist Abdikarin Bulhan tells VOA that Ethiopian troops on Monday
took control of the border town of Balanbal in the northern Galgadud region
and established a new base on the town's outskirts.

Bulhan says 10 truckloads of Ethiopian troops moved into Balanbal, about 15
kilometers away from the border, following reports that militant Shabab
fighters had taken over Galgadud's provincial capital Dusamareb, the town of
Mataban in the Hiran region, and the commercial city of Guri'el within in
the past two days.

The journalist says the Ethiopians shut down businesses and cut
communications in Balanbal after they took control of the town.

Further south in the Bay region, residents in the town of Burhakaba report
that Ethiopian troops, armed with artillery and other heavy weapons,
established a new military base there after forcing Islamist fighters to
abandon the town on Sunday.

The Ethiopian foreign ministry said on Saturday that the government was
willing to briefly delay troop withdrawal to allow some 3,000 African Union
peacekeepers currently deployed in Somalia to take over security.

The African Union says it does not have enough troops on the ground to take
over security from Ethiopia and has requested troops from the United
Nations.

*Shabab at forefront of insurgency*

Burhakaba lies 30 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Baidoa,
where Somalia's transitional parliament is based, and is on the road that
links Baidoa to the capital Mogadishu.
Several bombings, blamed on the Shabab, have killed and wounded dozens of
people in Baidoa in recent weeks. The Shabab, which the United States has
labeled a terrorist organization because of its alleged ties to al-Qaida,
has been at the forefront of a two-year, Islamist-led insurgency against
Ethiopia and the secular U.N.-backed government it has propped up in Somalia
since late 2006.

The Islamists have regained control in most parts of southern and central
Somalia in recent months. But the movement is divided between moderates and
extremists, prompting concerns that if Ethiopia pulled out of Somalia,
violence among Islamist groups could further deepen the humanitarian crisis
in the country.

Fighting between Ethiopian and Somali troops and insurgents is estimated to
have killed as many as 10,000 people, displaced more than 1 million and
plunged 3 million others into dire poverty.

*Human Rights Watch report condemns all parties involved in conflict*

A new report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch group, released on Monday,
condemns all sides in the conflict for causing Somalia to descend into the
worst chaos it has seen since the fall of the country's last government in
1991.

The report's author, Chris Albin-Lackey, tells VOA that major donor nations
supporting the Ethiopian-backed government have never properly addressed
repeated allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes committed by
government and Ethiopian troops against thousands of Somali civilians.

Albin-Lackey says in the perceived absence of justice and in the belief that
the West continues to support Ethiopia and the government unconditionally,
Somalis are increasingly turning to radical Islamists, hoping the Shabab and
their allies can restore law and order.

"The bottom line is that Ethiopia, the transitional federal government, and
insurgent forces have all managed to do more damage to the civilian
population of Somalia than to one another," he said. "At the same time, the
international community as a whole has completely failed to intervene
effectively in Somalia and, in fact, a number of key international actors,
including the United States, have in some cases actually made the situation
worse through some of their actions. These past two years of violence and
brutality are the primary reason why the extremist groups, including
al-Shabab, have gained so much power."

The Shabab functioned as the military wing during the Islamic Courts Union's
brief six-month rule and aims to impose strict Islamic laws in Somalia.

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