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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 17:09 GMT
Ethiopian troops 'deploy' in Somalia
Map of Somalia
Witnesses also saw battle wagons and supply vehicles
An increasing number of Ethiopian military personnel are being reported moving into Somalia.

Everybody knows that Ethiopia and Somalia have always had an unpleasant relationship

Professor Abdi Ismael Samatar

According to the latest reports, about 300 Ethiopian troops have deployed in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia.

The troop movements are concentrated in Puntland and the neighbouring Bay region, as well as the town of Baidoa.

Ethiopia has been supporting Somali factions opposed to the Transitional National Government of President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan.

But it remains unclear what has driven the latest deployment, and the Ethiopian Government continues to deny having any troops in Somalia.

Battle wagons

The BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu said that according to eyewitnesses, about 300 well-armed Ethiopian soldiers arrived in Garowe, the regional capital of Puntland, in the early hours of Monday.

A local businessman, who asked not to be identified, said he had seen 12 big trucks transporting uniformed infantry troops, as well as at least four battle wagons or armed pick-up trucks.

Prime Minister Hassan Abshir Farah
The prime minister denies rumours of US payments to Ethiopian troops

He also saw two lorries apparently carrying fuel, ammunition and spare parts.

Another eyewitness said the convoy was led by a heavily guarded Ethiopian general who was closely protected.

According to the witness, the general entered the building which has been used by Colonel Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed, the ousted president of Puntland.

Clan elders elected Jama Ali Jama as the new head of Puntland late last year, but his appointment was immediately rejected by Abdullahi Yusuf, who drove Mr Jama from Garowe.

Ethiopian denials

Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ethiopia, Dina Mufti, told our reporter in Addis Ababa, Nita Bhalla, that there is no reason for Ethiopian forces to be inside Puntland or anywhere else in Somalia.

Mr Mufti said: "We have been hearing these allegations for weeks now and this is merely an extension of the same. I can assure you that there are no Ethiopians in Somali territory".

The spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs said any eyewitnesses were probably "mistaken".

Diplomats however say there is a strong possibility that Ethiopian forces have been in Somalia for some weeks now.

There is speculatation that Ethiopian soldiers are also in Baidoa, training militias of the opposition alliance faction the SRRC - Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council. Reports from Mogadishu said a new camp had been opened in Daynunay.

Fears are also being expressed that Ethiopia is planning to attack the southern port town of Kismaayo with the help of SRRC militiamen.

But again the Ethiopian Government denies these rumours and blames the interim government, with whom it continues to have a volatile relationship, saying they are spreading "malicious lies" about Ethiopia's policy towards Somalia.

Somalia's interim prime minister, Hassan Abshir Farah, has also denied rumors that America is paying $200 to each militiamen trained by Ethiopians in Bay region.

See also:

21 Dec 01 | Africa
Somalia's role in terror
13 Dec 01 | Africa
Somali 'terrorists return home'
28 Nov 01 | Africa
Somalia, Ethiopia mend fences
23 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali leader promises battle
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
05 Feb 01 | Africa
Timeline: Somalia
13 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali PM pledges reconciliation
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