Ethiopian Official Says Somali Militias Use Ethiopia to Attack Rebels

August 21, 2009

VOA – Ethiopia has confirmed that pro-government militias from neighboring Somalia are using Ethiopian territory as a base to launch attacks on rebel forces. An Ethiopian spokesman lashed out at Horn of Africa rival Eritrea for its role in the Somalia conflict.

Spokesman Bereket Simon says Ethiopia has not and will not stop its military support to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, in its fight against a foreign-backed insurgency.

Bereket told reporters, pro-government Somali militias have permission to use Ethiopia as a base of operations in attacking al-Shabab rebels, who control large sections of southern Somalia.

“When the forces of the TFG attack al-Shabab and score victories, we don’t care from which geographical positions they start the attack,” he said. “But I assure you this is a Somali operation.”

Bereket categorically denied persistent reports that Ethiopian troops are actively engaged in Somalia’s civil war.

Ethiopia’s army entered Somalia in 2006 to drive out an al-Shabab backed administration in Mogadishu, but encountered stiff opposition and withdrew earlier this year.

Bereket says Ethiopia’s military support mostly involves training forces loyal to the U.N.-backed transitional government.

“We have been training, not only now, even when we had been in Somalia, we have been training forces of the TFG, and we always train and we will continue to train forces of the TFG because we believe these are forces of peace and stability in Somalia,” he continued.

Bereket had harsh words for Ethiopia’s Horn of Africa rival Eritrea, which the United States accuses of backing al-Shabab in Somalia. Eritrea denies the charge, but Bereket described Eritrea as a regional troublemaker.

“The reality is that Eritrea currently is creating havoc around the Horn. We all know this country is supplying arms to al-Shabab,” he said. “We all know this country is bent on weakening and destroying the TFG, which is the legitimate government recognized by the United Nations.”

Bereket also expressed satisfaction with this week’s verdict of an international commission settling claims arising from the war Ethiopia and Eritrea fought from 1998 to 2000. Ethiopia had asked for $14 billion in reparations, Eritrea had asked for $6 billion. The ruling handed down in The Hague awarded Ethiopia $174 million, and Eritrea roughly $164 million.

In a statement, the commission said it was aware the awards were only a small fraction of what each side had demanded of the other. But the commissioners noted what they called ‘the harsh fact that these countries are among the poorest on earth, and that the full claims would have been impossible for either side to pay.

Eritrea earlier said it would abide by the commission’s decision.

The awards were the result of a complex arbitration that was part of a peace agreement that ended the conflict. An estimated 80,000 people died in the fighting, many in World War I-style trench warfare.