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Monday, January 08, 2007

Ethiopian Forces Attacked in Somalia

Photo
A Transitional Federal Government soldier carrying a rocket-propelled grenade patrols a street in Mogadishu, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007. Hundreds of Somali soldiers patrolled Mogadishu and clan elders held emergency meetings Sunday, a day after violence broke out during angry demonstrations against Ethiopian forces supporting Somalia's interim government. During Saturday's protest at least two people were killed, including a 13-year-old boy, hospital officials said. The violence on Saturday exposed deep unrest in a city that is seeing its first legitimate governing force in more than a decade. (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

AP - Gunmen attacked Ethiopian troops supporting the Somali government Sunday, witnesses said, in the second straight day of violence in a city struggling to emerge from more than a decade of chaos.

Farah Abdi Hussein, who witnessed the attack, said gunmen launched grenades at Ethiopians about 2 1/2 miles from the airport. One Somali soldier was wounded, according to a Somali military official asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

The unrest comes at a precarious time for Somalia's transitional administration, which is trying to assert some control for the first time in a capital that has seen little more than chaos in the 15 years since clan warlords toppled a dictatorship and then turned on each other.

The government, backed by Ethiopia's military, drove out a radical Islamic militia last week. But many in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent the presence of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population and has fought two wars with Somalia.

On Saturday, hundreds of furious protesters took to the streets, burning tires and smashing car windows while denouncing the presence of Ethiopian forces and shouting defiance at the Somali government's call for disarming Mogadishu.

Two people died in Saturday's violence, including a 13-year-old boy.

On Sunday, a similar protest took place about 215 miles away in Belet Weyne, after Ethiopian troops there detained a Somali military commander who refused to hand over an Islamic militiaman, witnesses said. That protest also turned violent, killing a 20-year-old civilian, Abdi Nor Salah Gedi told The Associated Press by telephone.

It was not clear who shot the man or the teenager killed Saturday.

Clan elders held emergency meetings Sunday and hundreds of Somali troops patrolled Mogadishu, setting up six extra checkpoints in areas where residents burned tires and broke car windows during Saturday's protests.

Dahir Abdi Kulima, a chieftain of the Hawiye, the dominant clan of southern Somalia, said the government's reliance on Ethiopia is backfiring.

"Since the Ethiopians arrived people are sleeping and waking with worry about what will happen next," Kulima told AP during a break in a meeting with about a dozen other Hawiye elders. "This is a sign of upcoming problems in Somalia."

Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and warplanes intervened in Somalia on Dec. 24 to defeat the Islamic movement, which had threatened to overthrow the internationally recognized government. At the time, the government controlled only the western town of Baidoa.

The most senior U.S. diplomat for Africa said Sunday that the United States would use its diplomatic and financial resources to support the Somali government.

"I think we are pushing uphill as an international community, as well as the Somali people themselves, to try to overcome their history," Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, told AP in Nairobi, Kenya.

Frazer was planning a surprise visit to Mogadishu on Sunday but called it off because the details of the trip were made public, prompting concerns for her safety.

The African Union has begun planning for peacekeepers and Uganda has promised at least 1,000 troops. Frazer has said she hopes the first troops would arrive in Mogadishu before the end of the month.

Previous peacekeeping forces, including U.S. troops, met with hostility and violence when they tried to help in the early 1990s, and leaders of the routed Islamic militia are vowing from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war.

After meeting with Frazer in Nairobi, a top Somali politician with ties to leaders of the militant Muslim movement urged its fighters to surrender and join the peace process.

Sheik Sharif Hassan Aden, speaker of the transitional parliament but a strong critic of the interim government, also dropped his opposition to having foreign peacekeepers in Somalia, calling on people "to welcome, to hail, to respect, to accommodate them in a peaceful manner."

Aden is closely linked to leaders of the militant Council of Islamic Courts, whose fighters scattered into the countryside after being defeated on the battlefield last week.

Frazer reiterated Somalia's importance to the United States because of its location in the Horn of Africa, where the Red Sea opens into the Indian Ocean.

The U.S. wants to make sure Islamic extremists do not take advantage of the chaos to establish a safe haven. Frazer has said al-Qaida's East Africa cell, blamed for the bombings of two U.S. embassies and a Kenyan resort hotel, infiltrated the Islamist movement in Somalia.

But Frazer stressed that the U.S. will provide only a support role.

"Some people would like the United States to lead on this issue," she said. "I would prefer that we lead from behind, and what I mean by that is pushing the Somali people first, pushing the sub-region next and then mobilizing the resources of the international community."

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