UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
SOMALIA: Ethiopia denies occupying Baidoa
NAIROBI, 11 June (IRIN) - Ethiopia has denied reports it has occupied the south-central Somali town of Baidoa, but well-placed security and political sources said it was concentrating its forces there while its Somali ally, the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA), has gone in pursuit of the seriously diminished militia of Hussein Aideed and his Ethiopian rebel ally, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
That "invasion" by Ethiopia, together with the movement of some 3,000 troops into Gedo region through Dolo and the consolidation of its presence at El-Barde near Belatwein, completes the creation by Addis Ababa of a "buffer zone" between Luuq and Belatwein, now extended to Baidoa, an intelligence source told IRIN on Friday. "The exercise represents a double success for Ethiopia, in blocking Eritrean efforts to open a second front [in the border war between the two states] and sending a clear message to Islamic fundamentalists in southern Somalia to be very careful about incursions into Ethiopia," the source added.
An Ethiopian spokesman on Friday denied that his country had invaded Somalia, seized Baidoa or planned to create such a buffer zone, saying Addis Ababa respected the sovereign territory of neigbouring states and "would not be stupid enough" to risk international vilification for such actions.
Meanwhile, Hussein Aideed and a delegation of Somali faction leaders travelled to Tripoli, where they appealed to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to intervene in Somalia's internal conflicts. Intelligence sources suggested that Aideed was negotiating for Libyan military aid. They said Libya is reportedly supporting Eritrea in the war with Ethiopia, and such developments may represent a widening of the war in the Horn of Africa - drawing in Somalia, Kenya and possibly a deeper Libyan involvement.
The fighting in Somalia saw a combined force of close to 3,000 well-equipped Ethiopian and RRA fighters attack Baidoa on Sunday night and take control after intensive fighting, which reportedly included Ethiopian artillery fire and air support, a security analyst told IRIN. The Aideed militia, which has held Baidoa since 1996, took heavy losses in this, its first significant military defeat, and was afterwards "severely diminished" as a force, security sources added.
The loss of Baidoa suggests that either Aideed is running out of money or Ethiopia is backing his opponents ever more heavily - or both, Somalia analysts said.
The security situation in Somalia has forced the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) to divert two ships bringing food aid to the country, a spokeswoman told IRIN on Friday. One ship managed to offload about half its cargo of 5,000 mt of maize at Merka port before being instructed to divert to Mombasa; another ship, en route to El Ma'an with 600 mt of food, was instructed to bypass the beach port and proceed to Berbera and Bosasso, she said.
The United Nations told IRIN on Friday it had more or less ceased operations in the regions of Bay Bakool, Gedo and Lower Shabelle, and was closely monitoring the broader situation. At the moment, the situation in Somalia was very unclear and humanitarian agencies were waiting to see how the situation developed, a UN security official added.
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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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