22/12/06 (B374) Reuters :Ethiopian tanks roll towards Somali battlefront. (Info lectrice)

Yare | Baidoa, Somalia

22 December 2006 02:50

Ethiopian tanks rolled to the battlefront on Friday as Somali Islamists and
Somalia’s pro-government troops pounded each other with artillery and rockets
in a fourth day of clashes edging closer to all-out war.

The Islamists
said they would send ground troops to attack en masse on Saturday, as opposed
to fighting from a distance with heavy weapons as the two sides have done
so far, ignoring a European peace initiative.

troops have not started to attack. From tomorrow [Saturday] the attack will
start," Islamist deputy spokesperson Ibrahim Shukri told a news conference.

near the fighting on two fronts near the government’s encircled stronghold
of Baidoa in south-central Somalia said they heard the rumble of armour before

was awakened this morning by heavy sounds of tanks. I woke up and saw seven
Ethiopian tanks heading towards Daynunay," Baidoa resident Abdullahi
Ali told Reuters.

An Islamist
fighter near one of the fronts in Daynunay said the tanks had attacked his
unit, and he was awaiting anti-tank weapons to fight back.

can see Ethiopian tanks. They have started firing heavy shells at us,"
the fighter, who declined to give his name, told Reuters by telephone.

Ethiopian government declined to comment.

If confirmed,
the involvement of the tanks in the battle would raise the stakes in what
is already the most sustained combat so far in a fight many fear could mushroom
across the Horn of Africa, sucking in rivals Eritrea and Ethiopia.

is the government’s forward military base, about 20km south-east of Baidoa.
Ethiopia has said it has military trainers there, but not combat troops.

The other
front, Idaale, is 70km south-west of Baidoa, a southern agricultural trading
post that is the only town the government controls.

New front?
The Western-backed, but ineffective, government and the Somali Islamic Courts
Council (SICC) say they have killed hundreds of each other’s troops across
the brushy flatlands around Baidoa. The figures could not be independently

began late on Tuesday, as an SICC deadline for Ethiopian troops to leave Somalia
or face a holy war passed. By Wednesday night, it was clear the European Union’s
announcement the same day that the two sides had agreed to restart peace talks
and stop fighting had begun to ring hollow.

has taken control of most of southern Somalia by dint of its military might
and imposition of strict sharia law.

and what it considers to be its top counter-terrorism ally in the Horn of
Africa, Ethiopia, say the SICC is led by an al-Qaeda cell, which the military-religious
movement denies.

says it has the popular support the government lacks, bringing law and order
to a nation convulsed with anarchy since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted
in 1991.

said Ethiopian troops were moving by air and ground toward Galkaayo, a strategic
central Somali town held as a forward defence base by government-allied Puntland

hope fighting will simultaneously start there too. We call upon the Somalis
to rise up and join in the jihad," SICC Secretary Ibrahim Suley told

and Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, a Puntland native, are keen to keep
the relatively stable, semi-autonomous Puntland region and its strategic ports
out of SICC hands.

A Puntland
fighter said by telephone from near Galkaayo: "There is a lot of troop
movement. From the way things are going, fighting can start any time."
— Reuters