Ethiopia: Playing With Fire


August 7, 2006: Ethiopian diplomats helped the Somali transitional government reorganize itself, and repair a spilt that had seen about a third of the government support split off. But Ethiopian troops are now inside Somalia, and poised to join the fight against the Islamic Courts fighters.
August 6, 2006: Ethiopia said that it was continuing "political talks" with Somalia's transitional government. Ethiopian representatives met separately with the prime minister and president of the transitional government. The transitional president and prime minister disagree over how to deal with a negotiating offer by the Islamic Courts, the Islamist organization which now controls Mogadishu and a significant chunk of south Somalia. Somali's president, Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed, apparently favors discussions with the Islamic Courts. Prime Minister Alie Mohamed Gedi is described as "hesitant." Ethiopia supports the Somali transitional government and is now their key ally.
August 5, 2006: There has been an increase in the number of Somali refugees crossing the borders. Kenya said the refugee flow began to increase in May (at the time the fighting accelerated between the Islamic Courts and US-backed "war lords" supporting the transitional government). There were no figures on the number of refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia. However, the UN said that the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya now has a refugee population of 135,000, which is an increase of 18,000 in the last year.
August 4, 2006: India confirmed it will rotate a battalion now currently assigned to the UN force along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. The 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Regiment, will replace the 13th Battalion, Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. The Indian Army battalions assigned to UNMEE (UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) are task forces with infantry supported by engineers, signal, and medical units.
August 1, 2006: Three small bombs went off in the Ethiopian town of Dire Dawa (east Ethiopia). No injuries were reported. However, Ethiopia has been plagued this year by a number of small terrorist bombings that have caused few casualties. The small bombs are typically set off near transportation infrastructure or a water or electrical utility.
July 29, 2006: The US warned both Ethiopia and Eritrea to avoid "escalating the crisis" in Somalia. Ethiopia publicly backs Somalia's transitional government and there are numerous reports of Ethiopian troops operating in Somalia. The s ubtext of the US warning, however, is interesting. Eritrea (which is not an Islamist government) is suspected of backing the Islamic Courts. Supporting the Islamic Courts keeps Eritrea's main enemy, Ethiopia, engaged. Eritrea is continually looking for leverage over Ethiopia, to force Ethiopia to honor the international border commission's "binding" decision to give Eritrea the disputed Badme-region along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. Supporting the Islamic Courts (and creating trouble for Ethiopia in Somalia) is a form of leverage. Eritrea has repeatedly denied it is helping the Islamic Courts. Of course, this is a scenario for a "proxy war" of sorts in Somalia. Somalia already suffers from a proxy war between the US and Al Qaeda. Ethiopia puts an interesting spin on the accusation that Eritrea is supporting the Islamic Courts. Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of "supporting Al Qaeda."


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