- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

JOWHAR, Somalia — The leader of the Islamic militia that seized Somalia’s capital said yesterday that 300 Ethiopian soldiers had entered the country to help his rivals, but he promised not to attack the weak government that represented his only challenge.

An Ethiopian official denied Sheik Sharif Ahmed’s claims, but said his government had massed troops along the border and was monitoring the Islamic militants’ advance across the country.

Sheik Ahmed said the Ethiopian troops entered the country yesterday morning through the southwestern border town of Dolow.

“Ethiopian [troops have] crossed our borders and are heading for us. They are supporting the transitional federal government,” he told reporters.

He also held out an olive branch to the transitional government, which currently is based in Baidoa, 155 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu. Sheik Ahmed’s Islamic Courts Union captured Somalia’s capital on June 6 after months of fighting with an alliance of warlords backed by the United States.

“We are willing to negotiate and work with them even though the transitional federal government did not come from the popular support of the Somalia people,” he said, noting that it was formed through international mediation in neighboring Kenya.

Ethiopia was a key power broker in forming President Abdullahi Yusuf’s transitional government in 2004. Mr. Yusuf, a former warlord, had asked for Ethiopian troops to back up his government.

Sheik Ahmed repeated his objection to the deployment of African Union peacekeepers to help Mr. Yusuf’s government establish its authority. Somalia’s parliament voted Wednesday for peacekeepers.

Sheik Ahmed denied yesterday that any foreigners were involved in the Islamic courts or that anyone in the courts had ties to al Qaeda.

“We are a Muslim people. We want to live in a peaceful way. We want to live with the rest of the world in a peaceful way,” Sheik Ahmed said. “We are not terrorists and we do not associate with terrorists.”

An Islamic Courts Union spokesman, meanwhile, said the last two main warlords who lost the Somali capital to the militia fled aboard a U.S. warship yesterday.

But the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols international waters off Somalia and is based in Bahrain, said it had no reports that any of its ships had picked them up.

Abdi Rahman Osman, spokesman for the Islamic Courts Union, said Muse Sudi Yalahow and Bashir Rage left Mogadishu late Friday on a boat and were later picked up by the warship.

U.S. officials have acknowledged cooperating with the warlords against the Islamic group.

The departure of Mr. Yalahow and Mr. Rage from Mogadishu would mean the 11-member warlord-led Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has collapsed.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Mr. Yusuf’s government is supported by Somalia’s neighbors, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

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