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Ethiopian troops return to Somalia

Less than a year after fleeing in the face of an Islamist insurgency, Ethiopian forces have come back to help prevent a moderate government from collapsing at the hands of militant Islamists.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 22, 2009

Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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Johannesburg, South Africa

With or without an international mandate, Ethiopian forces have entered Somali territory to back up a fast-failing Somali government.

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Sources close to Western embassies in Nairobi confirmed news reports that Ethiopian troops have taken positions in the Central Somali town of Beledweyne, and that Ethiopian troops were also active in the Gelgadud region north of the capital of Mogadishu. Kenyan forces, too, are reportedly amassing along the Somali border as a defensive measure, in what Kenya's foreign minister described in a press conference as a matter of "national security."

The intervention – officially denied by the Ethiopian government – comes as Somalia's parliament speaker, Sheik Aden Mohamed Nor Madobe, sent an urgent call Saturday for military intervention by Somalia's neighbors within the next 24 hours. At present, pro-government militias and a 3,000-strong contingent of African Union peacekeepers control a few city blocks around the presidential palace in Mogadishu, along with the airport and seaport. The rest is firmly in the hands of hardline Islamist militias.

"Mogadishu is almost under the total control of Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam," says an analyst close to Western embassies in Nairobi. "It is unpredictable, due to the nature of clan politics. Nobody knows who is in charge where. Shabab and Hizbul Islam have the upper hand, but there are rumors that the US wants to send ammunition in to the government, but they don't know who to give it to. There is the question of loyalty" among the various militia commanders.

Past foreign interventions haven't gone well

Foreign interventions are a tricky matter in Somalia. America's intervention, as part of a UN peacekeeping force to protect aid supplies in the early 1990s, ultimately collapsed because of a failed effort to take on warlords opposed to the government. Ethiopia's two-year intervention in support of the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf ended in December 2008, and Mr. Yusuf's government fell just days afterward. Yet the risks of doing nothing, and allowing Somalia's current Western-friendly government to fall to Islamic militants with links to Al Qaeda appears to be forcing Ethiopia and Kenya to respond forcefully, no matter the cost.

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