Islamists controlling much of southern Somalia warned Ethiopia on Thursday of "full-scale war" unless it withdraws troops allegedly sent to defend the country's weak transitional government.
The warning was delivered as forces loyal to the increasingly powerful Islamist movement advanced toward a town north of the capital, lost earlier this week to warlords reportedly backed by Ethiopian soldiers.
"We say again that Ethiopian intervention in Somalia will never be accepted," said Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the hard-line leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).
"We call on Ethiopia to withdraw its forces from Somalia otherwise be ready for full-scale war," he said at a ceremony in Mogadishu to mark the formal opening of the city's main seaport that was closed 11 years ago.
"No one can dare divert us on to a path other than Sharia law," added Aweys, a conservative cleric designated a terrorist by the United States for alleged links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Ethiopia has repeatedly denied deploying troops to Somalia despite numerous eyewitness accounts of uniformed Ethiopian forces arriving in the country since last month to protect the government from feared Islamist attacks.
Addis Ababa has rejected the persistent claims as propaganda but is deeply concerned about the rise of the Islamists on its western border and has pledged to defend itself and the Somali administration from any Islamist threat.
The most-recent report came on Tuesday when Ethiopian soldiers helped secular militia chase Islamic fighters from the village of Bandiiradley, near the town of Galkayo, about 620km north of Mogadishu, locals said.
As Aweys spoke in the capital, several hundred heavily armed Muslim gunmen rolled into and occupied the town of Duol, about 40km south of Galkayo and were girding for battle, residents said.
"[About] 700 Islamic fighters armed with machine guns and battlewagons came in but there was little resistance," said Duol resident Abdulaziz Ahmed Guled. "They made it clear that they want to establish Islamic courts."
He and others told Agence France-Presse they feared the Islamists were preparing to fight the warlords in Bandiiradley and expand their territory further north into Galkayo and the semi-autonomous north-eastern region of Puntland.
Meanwhile, Galkayo residents said forces loyal to ex-Mogadishu warlords, who were driven out of the capital in June by the Islamists after months of fierce fighting, were getting set to meet the Islamist advance at Duol.
Somalis face more hardships at Kenya camp: aid agency
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Nearly 140,000 refugees at a camp in northern Kenya are facing increasing hardships due to cuts in foreign funding, even as more war-weary Somalis pour into the settlement, an aid agency said on Thursday.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and the U.S. Agency for International Development have reduced financial support to Dadaab camp by 20 percent and 23 percent respectively over the last year, CARE International said in a statement.
It said the move would limit the mostly Somali refugees' access to water, shelter, sanitation and education as some 30,000 more people are expected to arrive by the end of 2006.
"These cuts have come at a critical time, with renewed conflict in Somalia between the interim government, warlords and the Islamic courts," said CARE official Mohammed Qazilbash.
It will be "extremely challenging for agencies to meet the basic needs of all those seeking refuge," he added.
Many Somalis have abandoned their homeland because of fighting in south Somalia between Islamist militia and warlords.
So far this year, at least 18,000 Somalis have reached Dadaab, which lies about 100 km (63 miles) south of the border and dates from the 1991 start of an era of anarchy in Somalia.
Islamic Courts threaten Puntland
A representative of the information office of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, stated that there will soon be a response to the support given by Puntland armed elements to Ethiopian and Somali troops
Polemics continue between authorities of Puntland, the self-proclaimed autonomous region since 1991, and the Islamic Courts, which yesterday threatened to attack if the government of Puntland continues interfering in Somali affairs.
Speaking to the local press, Sheikh Abdirahin Ali Mudey, representative of the information office of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, stated that there will soon be a response to the support given by Puntland armed elements to Ethiopian and Somali troops that two days ago seized the village of Bandiiradley (70km north of Galkayo, capital of the central Mudug region).
ˇ§Puntland must stop acts of provocation and interference that threaten the region, as it should stop its support to Abdi Qeybdid (a powerful leader of a clan defeated and pushed from Mogadishu in June), or else the situation will soon changeˇ¨, warned Ali Mudey.
In the past weeks, since the Courts began a campaign to extend their influence also in the central-north of Somalia, Puntland authorities took a defensive stand, threatening armed interventions, deploying troops along the border and arresting in its territory dozens of people accused of connections to the Islamic Courts of Mogadishu.
Meanwhile, the Eritrean government has expressed itself contrary to the deployment of African troops in Somalia, as recently announced by representatives of the IGAD, the inter-governmental regional authority of the Horn of Africa.
In a statement, the Information ministry underlined that a mission in Somalia could jeopardise attempts to restore calm in Mogadishu and the rest of the country, referring to the Courts, of which Asmara is among the main supporters.
The statement emphasises that the only objective of the mission is to ˇ§carry out the political agenda of the government party in Ethiopia and nothing more