21/12/06 (B374) BBC Somalis ‘at war’ with Ethiopia. (Info lectrice)

The leader
of the Union of Islamic Courts, which controls the capital and much of southern
Somalia, says they are in a state of war with Ethiopia.

"All Somalis should take part in this struggle against Ethiopia,"
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said from Mogadishu.

heavy fighting is reported near the weak Somali government’s Baidoa base,
amid fears conflict could plunge the entire Horn of Africa into crisis.

residents say Ethiopian troops are clashing with Islamist militias.

denies its forces are battling the advancing Islamist militias.

The two
countries have a long history of troubled relations, and Islamists have long
called for a holy war against Ethiopian troops in Baidoa.

Both the
Islamist and interim government agreed to a ceasefire and to unconditional
talks on Wednesday after meetings with a visiting European Union envoy.

But there
has been no let up on the ground, with heavy artillery and mortar fire heard
in Daynunay, some 20 km (12 miles) from Baidoa where the government has a
military base.

media report bodies strewn along streets. Both sides claim to have killed
and wounded dozens of fighters.


Deputy Defence Minister Salad Ali Jelle told reporters in Baidoa that 71 Islamic
fighters had been killed and 221 injured so far during clashes in three locations.

But in
Mogadishu, UIC official Sheik Mohamud Ibrahim Suley claimed his fighters had
killed 70 fighters, mainly Ethiopian troops.

claim can be independently verified.

As the
shelling continued close to Baidoa, Mr Aweys urged all Somalis to take up
the struggle against Ethiopia.

you cannot fight you can contribute in other ways to the effort," he

talks in Baidoa and Mogadishu on Wednesday, EU envoy Louis Michel announced
both parties had agreed to resume efforts to find a negotiated settlement
of their differences.

A nine-point
memorandum of understanding included agreement to begin talks again without
preconditions, he said.

set aside a demand that Ethiopian troops withdraw from Somalia as a precondition
for talks, Mr Michel added, although it remained a major grievance.

Mr Michel
has urged both sides to begin talks as soon as possible, at the latest early
in January.

Both sides
have blamed each other for the fighting.

has introduced law and order to the capital and much of southern Somalia for
the first time in 15 years and denies links to al-Qaeda.

has admitted to having some military trainers in Somalia, but our correspondent
says that as he drove to the airport in Baidoa on Wednesday, he was stopped
by a huge convoy of Ethiopian military armour.

The United
Nations estimates that at least 8,000 Ethiopian troops may be in the country
backing the government while regional rival Eritrea has deployed some 2,000
troops in support of the Islamic group.

countries are thought to have become involved in arming both sides.