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ICC NOTE: On the Islamic Courts’ Web site, a Somali-language site called Qaadisiya, spoke of a “third world war” between Christians and Muslims and said the Muslim world will defeat “the enemy of Islam.”

Somalia tense as Ethiopian troops, Islamic fighters gather

CNN

11/24/2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Hundreds of Ethiopian troops arrived Friday to protect Somalia’s government as a powerful Islamic militia massed nearby, sending civilians fleeing and raising fears of a regional war, witnesses said.

More than 130 trucks carried the Ethiopians into Baidoa, the only town controlled by the government, residents said.

“They parked their trucks around the town,” Nunay Selah said by telephone. “They are digging trenches.”

The standoff is between the transitional federal government, which has Western and U.N. recognition but little authority on the ground, and the Council of Islamic Courts, which controls most of southern Somalia.

Although tensions were high, travel is exceedingly difficult during the wet season, making serious fighting unlikely in the immediate future. Twenty years of neglect have left Somalia’s roads virtually impassable in the rain.

Still, residents as far away as Bur Hakaba — 37 miles (60 kilometers) east of Baidoa — were evacuating.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

The government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations to serve as a transitional body to help Somalia emerge from anarchy. But the leadership, which includes some warlords linked to the violence of the past, wields no real power outside Baidoa.

Meanwhile, the Islamic council has been steadily gaining ground since seizing the capital, Mogadishu, in June. The United States has accused the group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which it denies.

The Islamic movement’s strict interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan’s Taliban, which was ousted by a U.S.-led campaign for harboring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda fighters.

On Friday, Sheik Sahal Kheyre, an Islamic military commander in Moode Moode, just 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Baidoa, said his group was ready to repulse any attack from the Ethiopians.

“We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the defense of our religion, people and country from the invaders,” he said.

A statement on the Islamic Courts’ Web site, a Somali-language site called Qaadisiya, said Friday there will be a “third world war” between Christians and Muslims and said the Muslim world will defeat “the enemy of Islam.”