MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - Fighting reportedly broke out Friday in a southern Somali town recently seized by the Islamic militias that control much of the country, but the UN-backed government denied claims that Ethiopian troops launched the attack.
A top official of the Islamic Courts union said its militiamen fought Ethiopian troops in the southern town of Dinsor, and he called on Somalis to defeat "the enemies who have invaded our land."
"New fighting has started in Dinsor. Our forces have been raided by Ethiopian troops, so people get up and fight against the Ethiopians," Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed told a crowd of hundreds after Friday prayers.
"Stand up and overcome the enemies who have invaded our land," he told the crowd, which had gathered to protest a UN resolution allowing an African peacekeeping force into Somalia.
Islamic militiamen seized Dinsor last Saturday without encountering resistance or firing a shot.
If the Islamic Court's account of the fighting is confirmed, the battle would be the first direct clash between the Islamic militia and Ethiopian troops.
Deputy Defence Minister Salad Ali Jelle told The Associated Press that Islamic militiamen attacked first, fighting government troops at their base in Safarnoolees, a village 30 kilometres north of Dinsor.
"The Islamic Courts have attacked our base near Dinsor and we are defending our base," Jelle said. He said no Ethiopians were fighting with the government.
Ethiopian troops were first reported in Somalia in June, soon after the Islamic courts seized control of the capital, Mogadishu, from various warlords.
Ethiopia has always said it has only a few hundred military advisers in Somalia to help the transitional government form a national army, but a confidential UN report obtained by The AP in October said 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian troops were in Somalia or along the border.
The report also said 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea were inside Somalia. Eritrea denies having any troops in Somalia.
Demonstrations were held in several towns throughout Somalia against Wednesday's UN resolution, which eases a 14-year arms embargo on Somalia so an African force can equip itself. The resolution specifically prohibited Somalia's neighbours - Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya - from contributing troops.
Earlier Friday, Sheikh Abdullahi Ali Hashi, a spokesman for the Islamic courts, claimed Ethiopian troops had shelled the central Somalia town of Bandiradley, while residents of a nearby village said hundreds of Ethiopian troops and tanks had taken up positions near the town.
They said that this new movement puts the Ethiopian forces and the Islamic Courts' militia less than two kilometres apart.
Somalia on knife-edge as Islamists warn of wider conflict after UN force approval
MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somalia's powerful Islamists have warned that a UN Security Council decision to deploy peacekeepers will multiply "the number of graves" in the country as it threatened to step up a conflict against the weak Somali government.
As the country teetered on the brink of an all-out war, Islamic forces exchanged heavy artillery fire with rival militia, backed by Ethiopian forces in central Somalia, killing at least one pro-government fighter and wounding others, commanders said.
"The decision to bring foreign troops into Somalia will spark a new crisis in Somalia. I tell you that this UN endorsement will massively increase casuality figures and the number of graves in this country," Islamist movement spokesman Sheikh Abdurahim Muddey told AFP on Thursday.
"This resolution is one-sided and we have already made clear our position on it. Again we say that we will never accept the deployment of foreign troops ... We will make sure that we make good our warning," he added.
The Islamist's deputy security chief, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, called the Council "an American stooge" which he said was advancing Washington's sinister schemes.
"Let America do whatever it wants, everything the UN approves is an aggression against us and we are ready to defend our religion and land against enemy invasion," Robow said.
"We tell the peacekeepers that ahead of them are hand-propelled grenades and other artillery," he explained. "We promised to fight until we die and that promise is still alive today."
Muddey spoke hours after the Security Council unanimously authorized the deployment of east African peacekeepers in Somalia and eased a 14-year-old arms embargo, despite vehement opposition from the Islamists and some countries in the region.
The Somali government, which has been further weakened by infighting, called for the immediate deployment of the force.
"We hope that the resolution will be implemented to the letter because it is very important and crucial to the people of Somalia," Information Minister Ali Jama told AFP from the government seat of Baidoa, the only town held by the internationally backed but largely powerless transitional administration.
Radical Islamic clerics have vowed to wage a jihad, or "holy war", against any foreign troops in Somalia, including those from Ethiopia already in the country to bolster the government.
The UN resolution urged both sides to resume "without delay" peace talks which collapsed last month.
Rival commanders confirmed the midnight clashes in the Islamist-held central Somali town of Bandiradley, about 630 kilometers (395 miles) north of Mogadishu.
"We lost one soldier and they also suffered casualties but I don't know how many," said Hussein Agaf, a commander of government forces from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
Witnesses reported rival fighters reinforcing defences, girding for a full-scale conflict.
The two-year-old Somali government, the Islamists and their Ethiopian allies have been bracing for all-out war for weeks in the lawless Horn of Africa nation that many fear could engulf the entire region in a bloody conflict.
Some diplomats and the respected International Crisis Group think tank agree and have called for the 1992 arms embargo to be strengthened as well as for pressure on both sides to return to peace talks.
But the African Union has already endorsed the proposed 8,000-strong force of troops from the seven-nation east African regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The Security Council said the planned mission should exclude troops from "states that border Somalia", specifically ruling out contributions from Ethiopia and Kenya. Diplomats said Uganda had offered troops.
"We are not classifying foreign forces, let them be from neighboring countries or faraway others, we affirm that we are in the final stage of fighting against any deployed force," Robow added.
There has been no national governing authority in Somalia since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.
There followed 15 years of factional bloodletting that prompted botched military and humanitarian intervention by the UN and the United States in the early 1990s.
Around 140 UN peacekeepers and 18 US special forces were killed in Somalia, prompting the force to withdraw in 1995.
Massive protests on foreign peacekeepers shadow in so many parts of southern Somalia.
Mogadishu, Somalia – Thousands of Somali protesters have poured out in Konis stadium, northern part of Mogadishu following today's Friday prayers to stage a large rally on demonstrating the UN approval of African peace keepers.
The protesters have been chanting anti slogans on Americans, United Nations and the Ethiopian troops presenting in Somalia's soil.
Today's demonstration has attended to some officials from the Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts.
The attended people have showed how they are opposing the foreign intervenes towards on Somalia and the troops deploying to Somalia at the present.
On the same protests has happened in Kismayo that organized the people of the town to show their opposite of peace keepers sending into at this time.
The demonstrators have set on fire the flags of United States Government, United Nations and Ethiopia.
All the attendees of that protests have declared clearly that they wage on Jihad the foreign troops whether attempting to enter in Somalia by claiming that they are peacekeepers.
Despite, the demonstrations against the regional peace keepers going on in Somalia, yet the big question is being asked is how they operate in the country.