Tuesday, October 31, 2006

U.S. Tells Ethiopia, Eritrea to Stay Out of Conflict in Somalia

By Judy Mathewson and Ed Johnson

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia and Eritrea must not interfere in the conflict in neighboring Somalia, the U.S. said, after concerns the Somali government's dispute with Islamist fighters may escalate into a regional war.

The U.S. is concerned about foreign ``troop activities'' in Somalia and has asked governments in the Horn of Africa region to ``deescalate tensions,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington yesterday.

The United Nations-backed interim government of President Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed is under threat from the Union of Islamic Courts militia that took over the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in June and is consolidating its control of the country.

Ethiopia, which backs Ahmed's government, says it has deployed military trainers across the 2,000-kilometer (1,243-mile) border with Somalia. There are reports that Eritrea has provided weapons to the Islamic Courts militia, McCormack said.

The Islamists yesterday accused Ethiopia of ``declaring war'' and are threatening to boycott peace talks today with Ahmed's government in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, unless Ethiopian troops are withdrawn, Agence France-Presse said.

Ethiopia and Eritrea shouldn't ``try to use Somalia as a proxy'' for their own disputes in the region, McCormack said. Ethiopia and Eritrea were at war from May 1998 to June 2000 over their border.

Officials at the Ethiopian and Eritrean missions to the UN didn't immediately return calls seeking a response to McCormack's comments.

Al-Qaeda Links
Ahmed's government has accused the Islamists of links to al- Qaeda and is appealing for some 8,000 African Union peacekeepers to be deployed.

The Islamist militia, which has introduced Islamic law in areas it controls, denies it harbors members of the al-Qaeda network. It says its fighters are trying to restore law and security in the country.

``Ethiopia has declared war on Somalia and has already made a large military incursion deep into Somali territory,'' the Islamists said in a letter yesterday to peace talk mediators in Khartoum, AFP reported.

Francois Fall, the UN special envoy for Somalia, said yesterday he expected negotiations scheduled for today will go ahead, AFP reported.

``We do not expect any setback that will stop the delegates from proceeding with the peace talks,'' AFP cited him as saying.

To contact the reporters on this story: Judy Mathewson in Washington at jmathewson@bloomberg.net ; Ed Johnson in Sydney at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net .



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