The African Union and the Arab League have issued a joint demand that all foreign troops leave Somalia. That includes the Ethiopians, who are the main supporters of Somalia’s interim government in its fight against the Union of Islamic Courts.
Ethiopian-backed pro-government troops have advanced to within a few kilometres of the capital Mogadishu, currently held by the Islamists.
There is panic in the city with many residents desperate to flee. But the Somali ambassador says they will not attack, rather they will surround Mogadishu until their Islamist rivals surrender. Earlier they seized the key town of Jowhar – just 90 kilometres from the capital – before taking Balad.
Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi said: “We have a mission to do. We have done more than half of our mission already. As soon as we complete the other half – and it won’t take long – we will be out of there so they won’t have a target to fight against.”
The Islamic Courts are portraying the conflict as a holy war, tapping into popular anti-Ethiopian feeling, inflamed by decades of rivalry between the two Horn of Africa neighbours. Ethiopia, meanwhile, is depicting the fighting as a war against al-Qaeda linked terrorists.
The United Nations is due to hold further talks after failing to agree on a statement calling for an immediate halt to the violence on Tuesday night.