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Ethiopia says 71 Somali insurgents dead this week

July 3, 2008

“In a joint operation
(with Somali forces) that started on June 30 around Guguriel, 71
terrorists from the UIC and Shabeb were killed,” the statement added.

Although Ethiopia said the operation started on Monday, fighting was reported on Tuesday.

The
Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) is a the political wing of the Shebab
militants who have been accused by western intelligence of links with
Al-Qaeda.

“Among them, 13 were high-ranking officers, who
included a Somali with Canadian citizenship. Several weapons were
destroyed during the campaign,” it added.

Somali witnesses said the Tuesday attack killed at least 26 people, mainly combatants.

Residents
reported that the fighting, in which both sides used armoured vehicles,
was the heaviest in the region since Ethiopian forces entered Somalia
in late 2006 to bolster the country’s weak government.

The
Ethiopian army, which rarely comments about such incidents, has pledged
to pull out once the United Nations deploys a peacekeeping force to
strengthen an embattled African Union peacekeeping force confined to
Mogadishu.

Since they were ousted from power last year, the
Islamists have waged a bitter guerrilla war, targeting Ethiopian,
government and African Union targets almost daily.

According to
several international rights groups and aid agencies, the fighting has
left at least 6,000 civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands
in the last 12 months alone.

On June 9, the Somali government and
its political opposition signed agreements, including a ceasefire
scheduled to enter into force within 30 days, but Shebab has refused to
recognise it.

Instead, it has vowed to keeping fighting until
Ethiopian forces pull out of Somalia, a nation that has been plagued by
an uninterrupted civil war since the 1991 overthrow of president
Mohamed Siad Barre.

The African Union has deployed some 2,600
peacekeepers in Mogadishu but the contingent on the ground still falls
far short of the 8,000 troops pledged by the continental body and has
failed to stem the violence.

At least 2.6 million Somalis are
facing hunger due to acute food shortages spurred by a prolonged
drought, insecurity and high inflation. UN famine monitors have warned
that the figure could hit 3.5 million by year’s end.

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