Nairobi: Several hundred Ethiopian troops
crossed on Saturday into southern and central Somalia, local elders
said, but Addis Ababa dismissed the reports as "absolutely not
"There are several hundred Ethiopian troops here in
lorries and some armoured vehicles too," said elder Abdi
Ibrahim Warsame, speaking by telephone from Gurel town, in
Somalia`s central Galgudud region.
Ethiopian forces were also reported in the Hiran region
at the town of Beletweyne, some 30 kilometres into Somalia, an
area contested by Islamist Shebab rebels and pro-government
"They are here, the Ethiopian soldiers in trucks have
reached Beletweyne with many forces," said elder Ahmed Liban.
"The Shebab in the area are pulling back, away from them."
But Ethiopia dismissed the reports outright.
"It is absolutely not true, there are absolutely no
troops in Somalia," said Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina
Mufti. "People are simply speculating."
Small numbers of Ethiopian forces have been reported
operating in Somali border regions in the recent past, but
witnesses said the scale of troop movements was this time far
If confirmed, it would be Addis Ababa`s first large scale
incursion since it invaded Somalia in 2006 with US backing.
Ethiopia pulled out three years later after failing to
restore order in its lawless neighbour, which has lacked a
functioning government for two decades.
The Galgudud area is largely under the control of an
anti-Shebab militia called Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, factions of
which have close ties with Ethiopia.
Ethiopian soldiers were reported to be up to 50
kilometres inside Somalia in that area.