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Annan Deplores Escalating Somalia Conflict
December 23rd 2006
by Editorial Staff
Outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan late Friday warned that the escalation of conflict in Somalia could have "disastrous consequences for civilians." Annan has called on the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) "to cease the hostilities immediately" and "resume the peace talks" without delay, according to a statement from his spokesman.
He urged the two sides to respect commitments agreed upon in Khartoum and expressed "grave concern" about the involvement of foreign forces in the conflict.
Earlier Friday, there were reports that Ethiopia has sent tanks and helicopters to the front lines.
Both sides have reported heavy casualties after three days of fighting, already in the hundreds, but these numbers could not be independently verified.
Some 50 Ethiopian tanks and other armoured vehicles as well as helicopters reportedly moved towards the battlefront on Friday, according to local media. Ethiopia has continuously denied any presence in Somalia, except for a few hundred soldiers training the government forces.
Aid agencies said civilians were fleeing the fighting and said they were concerned about their staff on the ground, who are working to assist flood victims after weeks of torrential rains.
The battles have raised fears that an all-out war could break out, sucking in neighbouring Ethiopia and its foe Eritrea, who fought a 1998-2000 border war and could use the Somali conflict as a proxy.
The UIC dramatically rose to power this year, taking the capital Mogadishu in June and a series of other southern and central Somali towns afterwards. They seek to establish a religious state based on Islamic Sharia law, drawing in ethnic-Somali regions of Kenya and Ethiopia as part of a "united Somalia."
The weak transitional government, divided and limited to its base in Baidoa, is the 14th attempt at establishing central rule in the country.
Somalia has been without a strong government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre by warlords plunged the country into lawlessness.