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Ethiopia convoy attacked in Somalia - Islamist source

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By Hassan Yare

MOGADISHU Nov 20, 2006 – Fighters loyal to Somali Islamists attacked an Ethiopian military convoy on Sunday, an Islamist source said, in what may be the first skirmish between the sides in the tense Horn of Africa nation.

Islamists seized the capital Mogadishu in June and now control much of the south of the country, leaving the interim administration marooned in Baidoa where residents say Ethiopian troops are protecting the Western-backed government.

If confirmed, it would be the first attack by the Islamists on Ethiopian troops, against whom they have declared holy war.

The Islamist source, who declined to be named, said the Ethiopian convoy hit a landmine and then came under gunfire.

A security source in Baidoa told Reuters six Ethiopians were killed in the attack. This could not immediately be confirmed.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment and residents could not confirm the Islamist's account.

"The Ethiopians have been attacked. Two of their trucks were burnt, while another two overturned," the Islamist source said.

Residents confirmed hearing an explosion and shooting from near the southern town of Berdaale but could not verify the cause.

"I heard a big explosion and gunfire from the direction a convoy of 21 Ethiopian military trucks was passing," said Isak Ali, who lives in Yurkud village near Berdaale.


He said he had seen several Ethiopian trucks pass through Yurkud in the last few days. Yurkud is on the way from the Ethiopian border to Baidoa.

Other residents said they later saw Ethiopian troops checking roads for landmines before arriving in Baidoa.

Addis Ababa has denied sending troops to Somalia although it says it has sent several hundred armed military trainers there.

It says the Islamists are led by terrorists.

Tensions have risen between the interim administration and the Islamists, whose territorial gains have thwarted the government's aim to impose central rule on a country in chaos since 1991.

The Islamists are just 30 km (18 miles) away from Baidoa, where residents say Ethiopian troops have dug trenches at a nearby military camp.

Both the government -- the 14th attempt at central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator -- and the Islamists, are vying for control of the nation of 10 million.

A third round of peace talks in Sudan between the two sides failed recently and many fear war could spread around the Horn of Africa and possibly further south into Kenya and beyond.

Source: Reuters


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