Ethiopian troops enter second Somali town

Published July 23, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Ethiopian troops moved into a second Somali town Saturday to protect the country's weak, U.N.-backed government but talks aimed at easing tensions in this Horn of Africa nation fell apart.

About 200 Ethiopian troops, driving in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, moved into Wajid and took control of the airport, witnesses said. Wajid is a U.N. aid base 46 miles southeast of the Somali-Ethiopian border.

Arab League talks in Sudan on Saturday were designed to ease the situation in Somalia, where the Islamist militia captured the capital, Mogadishu, from warlords and then consolidated its control over most of southern Somalia. Both sides signed a temporary cease-fire agreement June 22.

But the Islamists walked out of the talks Saturday because of the Ethiopian incursion, and the government side said it would not attend until it received international guarantees that any agreement would be respected.

"The Somali government has violated the accord and allowed Ethiopian troops to enter Somali soil," said Abdirahman Janaqaw, the deputy leader of the Islamic courts' executive council.

Ethiopian and Somali government officials have denied Ethiopian troops are in the country.

"There is not a single Ethiopian soldier on Somali soil. I deny that the Ethiopians have taken control of Wajid. Our troops control there," deputy information minister Salad Ali Jeeley told the Associated Press in Baidoa, where the fragile transitional government is based.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

Ethiopian troops first moved into Somalia on Thursday to protect the government, which has been challenged for power by Islamic militants. More than 400 Ethiopian troops entered Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, which the Islamic militia controls.

The Islamic militia's leader responded to the Ethiopian incursion by calling on all Somalis to wage holy war against Ethiopia, a largely Christian country that is Somalia's traditional enemy.

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, in a radio broadcast on Friday, said Ethiopia was seeking to bolster what he described as the puppet regime of President Abdullahi Yusuf, his longtime rival.