Somalia's parliament speaker has called on neighbouring countries to send in troops to defend the country's embattled government, as clashes with Islamic insurgents escalate. Witnesses report seeing Ethiopian troops north of Mogadishu.
AFP - Somalia's parliament speaker on Saturday called on neighbouring countries to urgently deploy troops to prop up the government as thousands fled the capital amid a mounting rebel onslaught.
Ethiopia's communications minister told AFP its troops could not intervene without an international mandate.
But residents of Beledweyn, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu and close to the border with Ethiopia, reported seeing Ethiopian soldiers near the town.
Hardline Islamist insurgents, on an offensive since May 7 to oust a UN-backed transitional government led by moderate Islamist Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, have this week stepped up attacks.
The drive against Sharif's administration has been spearheaded by the Shebab armed group and the more political Hezb al-Islam (Party of Islam) of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a former Sharif ally.
Three high-profile officials, including a security minister, have been killed this week.
In Mogadishu, civilians continued to flee the city in record numbers Saturday.
"The government is weakened by the rebel forces," parliament speaker Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nur told reporters.
"We ask neighbouring countries -- including Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen -- to send troops to Somalia within 24 hours," he said.
"We have a state of emergency in this country today because foreign fighters from all over the world are fighting the government."
An Al-Qaeda operative from Pakistan was commanding the fighting in Mogadishu, said Nur, adding that without help from its neighbours, "the trouble caused by these foreign fighters will spill to all the corners of the region."
But Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon told AFP Saturday: "Any further action from Ethiopia regarding Somalia will be done according to international community decision."
Ethiopia withdrew its forces from Somalia in January after a two-year intervention.
"We are following the situation very closely and wait for any answer from the international community," the minister added.
Residents and officials in Beledweyn, however, reported Ethiopian troops nearby.
"There are around 200 Ethiopian forces very close to the village of Bacad tonight and they have taken positions there" Adan Abdikarim, an elder in Beledweyn told AFP by phone. Bacad is eight kilometres from Beledweyn.
"They are also heavily armed with trucks mounted (with) anti-aircraft weapons and are pulling some artillery weapons," he added.
Another resident, Ilyas Mohamoud, said Ethiopian troops had stayed in Kalabeyrka, another village near the border but moved near their village in the evening.
A security officer in Beledweyn told AFP: "It's true that Ethiopia deployed fresh troops near the Hiran border."
But they had not come far across the border, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Earlier Saturday, loyalist forces in Mogadishu repelled a rebel attack in Hamarweh, a suburb near the presidential palace, information minister Farhan Ali Mohamoud told reporters.
Residents said Islamist forces had been just three kilometres away from Sharif's palace, which is protected by hundreds of African Union peacekeepers.
Deployed in March 2007, the AU force counts more than 4,300 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers.
They protect strategic sites such as the presidency, the port and the airport, but are only authorised to retaliate if directly attacked.
On Friday, clashes in northern Karan district had triggered a major exodus of civilians from Mogadishu, the highest so far this year. Thousands more followed Saturday, many on foot or perched on donkey carts.
The exodus was the heaviest since Sharif took office five months ago, an AFP correspondent on the scene said.
Aid agencies say at least 400,000 displaced persons are living rough at the Afgooye corridor, about 20 kilometres south of the capital, where many sleep in the open by the roadside.
Date created : 2009-06-21