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U.N. Study: Foreign Troops In Somalia Raise War Risk

Associated Press
Saturday, October 28, 2006

NAIROBI, Oct. 27 -- Thousands of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are in Somalia, backing opposing sides in the struggle for control of the country, according to a confidential U.N. paper. The involvement of the two rivals could set the stage for a regional war.

The U.N. report, dated Oct. 26, cites diplomatic sources in estimating that "between 6,000 and 8,000 Ethiopians and 2,000 fully equipped Eritrean troops are now inside Somalia supporting" the internationally recognized transitional government and the group known as the Council of Islamic Courts, respectively.

"Both sides in the Somali conflict are reported to have major outside backers -- the government supported by Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen; the Islamic courts receiving aid from Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States," the report added.

The transitional government and the Council of Islamic Courts have been girding for battle for weeks. Government forces have dug trenches near the western town of Baidoa, the only town the U.N.-backed government controls. The Islamic group has deployed forces at a strategic town between Baidoa and its headquarters in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Since taking Mogadishu in June, the Islamic fighters have extended their hold over much of southern Somalia.

Ethiopian officials have said they have only a few hundred military advisers assisting the government. The Somali transitional government has accused Eritrea of arming and supporting the Islamic group, a charge Eritrean and Islamic officials have denied.

The paper was written to help U.N. officials map a strategy on aid to Somalia, a severely impoverished country that has not had an effective central government since 1991.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-year border war that left tens of thousands of people dead and remains unresolved.

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