09/12/06 (B373) BBC : Deuxième jour d’accrochages en Somalie / Second day of clashes in Somalia

government forces backed by Ethiopian troops have clashed with Islamists for
a second day in western Somalia, officials and witnesses say.

fighting took place in villages about 80km (50 miles) south-west of the government
base in Baidoa, they say.

have reported artillery exchanges, but so far there have been no confirmed
reports of casualties.

The clashes
come just days after the UN approved plans to send peacekeepers to Somalia
– a move the Islamists reject.

Officials from Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) said the forces of
Somalia’s transitional government had launched a counter-attack after being
pushed back by Islamists on Friday.

This was
contradicted by Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi, who said the Islamists
had attacked government positions, according to the Associated Press news

war fears

government and Ethiopia have consistently denied that Ethiopian troops are
in Somalia, but their presence has been widely reported by residents and officials
from the UIC.

Ababa, however, admits to having hundreds of military trainers in Baidoa,
the only town the government controls.

If the
Ethiopian involvement is confirmed, it would be the first time that Islamist
and Ethiopian troops have come into direct contact.

BBC Africa
analyst Martin Plaut says the clashes could be the opening shots of the long-anticipated
war for control of Somalia.

has taken control of most of southern Somalia since taking the capital Mogadishu
in June.

Last week,
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said African nations who would contribute
to the proposed force should persuade the UIC that it would not be an "invasion

The resolution,
adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council, said the government represented
"the only route to achieving peace and stability" in Somalia, which
has been without effective central government since 1991.