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Battle in the Horn Friday, 23 July, 1999, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
The Somali connection
By regional analyst Patrick Gilkes

Whatever the result of the OAU mediation efforts in the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, there is little indication that either state will moderate its involvement in Somalia.

Both sides view Somalia as extremely important.

For Eritrea, Somalia provides a useful way of supporting opponents of the Ethiopian government in the hope of distracting Ethiopian attention from the border war.

For Ethiopia, involvement in Somalia provides a way of limiting opposition from anti-government organisations in the south.

Ethiopia's interests go back several years: the collapse of the Somali state in the late 1980s led to the creation of numerous clan-based political groups and militia forces, among them organisations which supported armed opposition movements in Ethiopia.

These include the Ogaden National Liberation front (ONLF) in Ethiopia's Region Five, and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in Region Four. Another was al-Itahaad al-Islami, widely seen as an Islamist organisation and linked to the government in Khartoum.

Since 1996, Ethiopian troops have made a number of cross-border incursions, occupying Dolo and Luq in Somalia's Gedo region for most of 1997.

Most of these operations were aimed at al-Itahaad, but were extended to support groups which backed the Ethiopian-sponsored Somali reconciliation conference at Sodere in January 1997.

Eritrea intervenes

As relations deteriorated between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Eritrea saw the opportunity to destabilise southern Ethiopia.

Guerilla groups in Somalia
Ethiopia and Eritrea back opposing factions in Somalia
Eritrea sought to distract attention from the disputed border areas, and as a long-standing ally of the OLF, encouraged links with Hussein Aideed, a Mogadishu warlord and major critic of the Sodere agreement.

Eritrea backed his recruitment of Oromo fighters, and the OLF held a congress in Mogadishu in April 1998, electing a more militant leadership.

In August 1998, Hussein Aideed made a visit to Ethiopia, but failed to extract the concessions he wanted, or expected.

By contrast, in February this year he returned from a visit to Asmara with three planeloads of weapons.

Three shiploads of arms, and some 1,500 Oromo fighters subsequently arrived from Eritrea to join hundreds of other Oromos trained earlier at Qorioli in southern Somalia.

Some Eritrean advisers, reportedly including engineers and mine-laying experts also arrived, though Eritrea, like Ethiopia, has continued to deny providing assistance or support to any Somali faction.

Attacks more frequent

It seems Hussein Aideed's deal with Eritrea allows him to keep a percentage of the new weaponry, but the majority of the Oromos appear intended to be sent to fight in southern Ethiopia.

Horn fighting
Shifting loyalties among Somali factions
Despite some dispute about how far he has implemented this side of the deal, there has certainly been a significant increase on OLF and ONLF activity over the last year.

The ONLF has reportedly carried out several kidnappings in Region Five, and claims regular if small scale clashes with Ethiopian troops throughout the region.

There were reports in March of lorry-loads of arms and supplies for the ONLF, going up to the border from Mogadishu.

In southern Ethiopia, the OLF has been active on both sides of the Ethiopian-Kenyan border.

Oromos live on both sides of the border, and Ethiopian "hot-pursuit" raids have led to a number of Kenyan deaths.

Kenya has now increased its own security forces along the border and finally begun to clamp down on OLF use of Kenyan territory.

Ethiopian loyalties

Ethiopia has been eclectic in its support for Somali groups. Anyone prepared to oppose al-Itahaad, or Hussein Aideed - whom Ethiopia considers a long-term supporter of al-Itahaad - seems to have been able to get Ethiopian backing.

It has not always been entirely successful.

Ethiopia has provided arms to General Mohamed Siyad Hersi "Morgan" in Kismayo, and, originally, to General Omar Haji Mohamed "Masaleh" of the Somali National Front (SNF) in Gedo region.

Now, General Omar has switched support to Hussein Aideed, and Ethiopia is arming and providing military support to another faction of the SNF in Gedo region.

'Significant' involvement

In the north-east, Ethiopia is reported to have provided weapons and training to the militia of Puntland, set up last year.

Puntland and Somaliland are currently at odds over the former's claims to the two Somaliland regions of Sol and Sanaag.

But the largest Ethiopian involvement appears to have been on behalf of the Rahenweyne Resistance Army (RRA) in Central Somalia.

Ethiopia has trained and armed over 2,000 militia for the RRA, but in June it also deployed a brigade of Ethiopian troops to help the RRA defeat Hussein Aideed's forces and take Baidoa - although Addis Ababa has consistently denied any involvement.

There are now reliable reports of significant numbers of additional Ethiopian troops moving into Bay and Bakool regions, building up for attacks on the strategically important airfield at Balidogle, held by Hussein Aideed's clan - if not necessarily his supporters - and the Oromo training camp at Qorioli.

The RRA have also expressed a claim to the seasonal port of Merca, south of Mogadishu, used earlier in the year to land arms from Eritrea, and Oromo fighters. Ethiopia would like to prevent this in the future.

Supply routes

Another target of Ethiopian military activity is likely to be Kismayo, captured by Hussein Aideed's allies in June.

Kismayo provides an airfield and an all-year port, which would be invaluable for the arrival of further support for Hussein Aideed whether from Egypt (also alleged to be supplying him with weapons), Eritrea or from Libya, which he has recently been trying to use to mediate with Ethiopia.

Mogadishu's air and sea facilities remain unusable, with half a dozen factions still unable to establish any realistic control of the city.

The last attempt, the Libyan- and Egyptian-backed Benadir administration of Hussein Aideed set up last year, collapsed in March after Libyan money for the 3,000-strong police force ran out.

See also:

06 Apr 99 | Africa
14 Jul 99 | Africa
28 Jun 99 | Africa
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