The Somalia jihad enters a new phase. “Fierce fighting convulses southern Somalia despite truce pledge,” by Mustafa Haji Abdinur for AFP:
A day after European Commission humanitarian chief Louis Michel said he had secured both sides’ commitment to observe a truce and resume peace talks, the Islamic movement chief called on Somalis to join the war against Ethiopian forces.
The government said Wednesday it had killed “hundreds” of rival fighters and wounded hundreds while the Islamists said they had killed at least 70 enemy combatants in the deadly assaults. None of the figures could be independently confirmed.
“Our mujahedeens have killed 70 soldiers today … the Islamic courts are winning the war against Ethiopian invasion,” Sheikh Mohamoud Ibrahim Sulley, the secretary of the Islamists, told a press conference in Mogadishu.
At the same time, residents said an Ethiopian helicopter landed in Baidoa, the seat of government, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“I saw an Ethiopian-flagged military chopper, it collected some wounded soldiers from the airport,” said Abdullahi Mohamed, who lives nearby.
“Mortar fire was still going on at night … nothing has stopped,” said Information Minister Ali Jama, adding that the Islamists were mobilising more fighters to widen a conflict that compounds the misery of nearly a million people affected by recent flooding.
“The fighting is still continuing and we dont know how things can be changed,” said Hussein Ali, a Baidoa resident said.
Islamists chief Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys rallied Somalis to join the war against Ethiopian forces deployed to protect the government.
“All Somalis should join the war against Ethiopia,” Aweys told HornAfrik radio, a day after he said the conflict was “a small incident.”
“The government will not attack anybody, but we are prepared to defend ourselves,” [Somali Information Minister] Jama said of the clashes threatening to embroil the entire region, possible drawing in Addis Ababa’s arch-foe Eritrea.
Fighting erupted early Wednesday, hours after the expiry of an Islamist ultimatum for Ethiopian forces to pull out or face major attacks.
Deputy Defence Minister Salad Ali Jelle said the army was winning the fight, which erupted when Islamists raided the two garrisons.
The government officials said fugitive terror suspects and foreign fighters were bolstering the Islamists.