Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the Consultative Council of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire Photo File.
Somalia on knife-edge as Ethiopia, Islamists ready for all-out war
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said his country has completed preparations for war with neighboring Somalia's powerful Islamist movement, alongside faltering peace efforts.
Meles told parliament Thursday that the Islamists, who have declared holy war on Ethiopian troops deployed to Somalia to protect the weak internationally backed Somali government, were a "clear and present danger" to his country.
Shortly after Meles' announcement, the Islamists said in Mogadishu they were ready to defend themselves from a "reckless and war-thirsty" Ethiopia and invited a US delegation to visit in an apparent bid to cool the situation.
"This group represents a clear threat to Ethiopia," Meles told Ethiopian lawmakers in Addis Ababa, which denies UN experts' claims of having sent thousands of troops to Somalia but admits to sending military advisers.
"To resist this clear and present danger, the policy of this government is first to try to solve the problem through negotiation and dialogue," he said. "So far, our attempts have not been successful."
"When any country faces that type of danger it has the full right to defend itself against this threat," Meles said. "To exercise this right we have been preparing for this kind of response, because it is our responsibility."
"The government has completed that kind of preparations."
However, opposition lawmakers refused to accept a motion endorsing the prime minister's statements, calling it tantamount to a declaration of war and forcing a delay in the vote in order for revisions to be made.
"This motion needs to be amended and negotiated with the parties' representatives in the parliament," opposition MP Beyene Petros told AFP.
Mainly Christian Ethiopia has watched with growing concern the rise on its southeastern border of the Islamists, who seized Mogadishu in June and now control most of southern and central Somalia.
With a large ethnic Somali population, Ethiopia fears radicalization of its sizable Muslim minority by the Islamists, some of whom are accused of links to Al-Qaeda, who have imposed strict Sharia law in areas they control.
In Mogadishu, senior members of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) met to plot strategy after Meles' address, delivered after the Islamists claimed to have ambushed several Ethiopian military convoys near the Somali government seat of Baidoa.
"If Ethiopia is ready for war, we are very ready for the defense of our country," said SICS spokesman Abdurahim Ali Muddey. "But we urge Ethiopia to refrain from its reckless, war-thirsty behaviour.
"We are not a threat to Ethiopia, but the presence of its troops in our homeland is a serious security risk to Somalia as well as Ethiopia," he told AFP.
On Sunday and Tuesday, the Islamists said holy warriors had carried out attacks on Ethiopian military targets around Baidoa, the only government-held city, about 250 miles (155 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.
As tension soared, Muddey said the Islamists had invited the United States to send a delegation to Mogadishu "to see what is happening in Somalia" and hear in person their objections to a US proposal that would allow peacekeepers.
But a positive response was unlikely as the United States accuses some in the Islamist movement of links with Al-Qaeda and harboring suspects in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Ethiopia is one of 10 countries, along with Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement, accused of violating a 1992 UN arms embargo on Somalia by sending weapons and other military goods to the Somali rivals.
The build-up has alarmed UN experts and raised fears of full-scale war in Somalia that could engulf the Horn of Africa region, drawing in Ethiopia and its arch-for neighbor Eritrea, which is accused of backing the Islamists.
Peace talks aimed at averting all-out war collapsed earlier this month in Khartoum, with the Islamists demanding the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops as a pre-condition to meet government delegates.
Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 ousting of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre and the two-year-old transitional government has been unable to assert control.
Thursday November 23, 11:41 PM
Somali Islamists invite US delegation as war fears mount
Somalia's powerful Islamist movement has invited the United States to send an official delegation to Mogadishu amid growing fears of all-out conflict with the weak government and Ethiopia.
As tension soared Thursday after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced his country's readiness to fight to defend itself and the internationally backed Somali administration, the Islamists urged US officials to visit.
"We are inviting the United States to send a delegation to see what is happening in Somalia," said Abdurahim Muddey, the spokesman for the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).
"The US delegation will be received by our foreign relations chief, Ibrahim Hassan Addow, who is himself an American citizen," he told AFP.
He added that Islamists would like to tell the United States in person of its opposition to a US-proposed UN Security Council resolution that would partially lift a 1992 arms embargo on Somalia and authorize regional peacekeepers.
"The lifting of the UN weapons embargo which is being spearheaded by US is a serious security risk," Muddey said. "Somalia lacks peace, not weapons, and that is what
the US should know."
There was no immediate reaction to the invitation from the US embassy in neighboring Kenya which handles Washington's Somalia portfolio.
But a positive response was unlikely as the United States accuses some in the Islamist movement of ties with Al-Qaeda and harboring suspects in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Islamists' supreme leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has been designated a "terrorist" by the United States, which earlier this month warned that Somali extremists may be plotting suicide attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Washington ran a covert operation to support Somali warlords fighting the Islamists for control of Mogadishu that collapsed
in June when the city fell, prompting US fears of a Taliban-style takeover.
The Islamists deny any connection to terrorism but the Somali government accuses them of staging an unsuccessful suicide car bomb attempt to kill the president in the administration's
seat of Baidoa in September.
Muddey said the Islamists, who have expanded from the capital and now control much of southern and central Somalia where they have imposed strict Sharia law, wanted US officials to see how they had restored order.
"The courts have no problem with the US, but if that country favours dialogue, then our leaders are ready for engagement," he said, adding that the invitation was not addressed to any specific US official.
Thursday November 23, 6:23 PM
Somali Islamists say ready for war, accuse Ethiopia of belligerence
A powerful Somali militia has said it was ready to fight Ethiopian invaders, sparking fears of an all-out war in the lawless African nation.
Less than an hour after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he had finalised preparations for war, the Islamists war council urged Ethiopia to refrain from sabre-rattling, but announced their readiness to defend themselves.
"If Ethiopia is ready for war, we are very ready for the defense of our country, but we urge Ethiopia to refrain from its reckless, war-thirsty behaviour," said Abdurahim Ali Muddey, the spokesman for the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) told AFP Thursday.
Muddey rejected Meles claims that the Islamists, whom it accuses of links to Osama bib Laden's Al-Qaeda network, was "a clear threat" to its security and that they had rejected peace talks.
"We are not a threat to Ethiopia, but the presence of its troops in our homeland is a serious security risk to Somalia as well as Ethiopia," he said.
The Islamists have declared a holy war on Ethiopia, which had deployed troops to defend the weak Somalia government from a feared Islamic advance.
In recent weeks, the Islamists have clashed with Ethiopian troops near Baidoa, the seat of government, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
The Islamists say they have inflicted heavy casualities on the Ethiopians, including the destruction of military carriers and the killing of two soldiers, but Addis Ababa has refused to confirm or deny.
Ethiopia denies deploying thousands of combat troops in Somalia but admits several hundred military advisers, trainers and support personnel have been sent to help the government.
Security experts have warned that war between the Islamists and Ethiopia will draw in its arch-rival Eritrea, whom it has a border dispute, thereby escalating into a regional conflict.
Somalia, a nation of 10 million has lacked an effective government since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991 and a government formed in Kenya in 2004 has failed to exert control across the lawless nation.