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Published:December 22nd, 2006 07:00 EST
Thousands Fleeing Fighting in Somali

Thousands Fleeing Fighting in Somali

By Juliet Maruru

Local residents reported seeing hundreds of troops and trucks moving towards the front lines around Baidoa — the only area the UN- backed Somali government controls — early Friday. Bodies lay in the streets and fighters pounded each other's positions with heavy artillery and mortars overnight. Fearing worsening fighting, families began to abandon their homes, crops and livestock. Hundreds of people in areas held by the Islamic forces also were fleeing south to the capital, Mogadishu, about 140 southeast of Baidoa.

"I think we have lost hundreds of our animals in the fighting, most of them were caught in the crossfire," said Malable Aden, who reached Mogadishu by car. "We were supposed to reap our harvest of this season, but unfortunately we were forced to leave them behind for the pigs and birds to destroy them."

The Council of Islamic Courts said Thursday that Somalia was in "a state of war" and a call was made for all Somalis to fight Ethiopian forces in the country. Ethiopia, however, denies its forces are fighting, and says it has only deployed a few hundred military trainers in support of Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government.

The clashes threaten to escalate into a major conflict in this volatile region, sucking in Ethiopia and its bitter rival, Eritrea. Analysts believe Ethiopia may soon raise the stakes by deploying attack helicopters in support of the government.

Ethiopian government spokesperson Zemedkun Teckle was quoted as saying, "The Islamic group is claiming that Ethiopia is fighting against them and this is totally false. If the time comes that we have to fight, it will be very clear to everyone and there will be no doubt because we will announce this to our people."

In the meantime, the United Nations is appealing for calm warning that continued fighting would prevent Aid from reaching those who need it especially after the prolonged drought followed by flooding.