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Ethiopia bombs Mogadishu airport - reports

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday December 25, 2006

Addis Ababa/Mogadishu- Ethiopia's military on Monday struck the airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu, a day after it declared war on the country's powerful Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Fighter jets hit the airport, which was recently reopened by the UIC after 10 years of inactivity, wounding at least two people.

"Two Ethiopian warplanes were attacking the airport dropping bombs on the runway and the parking," Abdirahim Adan Weheliye, the manager of Mogadishu International Airport, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Reports said Ethiopian jets also hit Ballidogle, a former military airport some 110 kilometres from Mogadishu, which has been under UIC control since June.

Ethiopia declared war on Somalia's Islamists late on Sunday, saying it was defending itself from the group which controls much of the Horn of Africa country.

The attack on the airport followed intense fighting and Ethiopian airstrikes on Sunday near the town of Baladweyne, 320 kilometres north of Baidoa, the seat of Somalia's weak transitional government.

In a live speech aired on television and radio Sunday night, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that parliament had passed a resolution that would allow the country to protect its sovereignty.

"To defend the attack from the UIC, we are forced to go into war today," Zenawi said.

The announcement came the same day Ethiopia finally admitted to having combat troops in the country, which it had long denied, saying it only sent training officers to support the weak transitional government.

In his address, Zenawi also said Ethiopia had tried to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict with the Islamists, but this proved futile.

He said Ethiopia would "withdraw immediately," once it completed its mission in the country to push back the Islamist advance.

The first clashes erupted last week in Idale, 60 kilometres south-west of Baidoa, a day before an EU envoy successfully pushed the warring sides to agree to attend peace talks.

They also coincided with a one-week deadline given to Ethiopia by the UIC to remove its troops or face attacks.

The UIC have vowed to wage jihad (holy war) on any Ethiopian troops in the country. Ethiopia, the greatest military power in the Horn of Africa, has long branded the UIC terrorists.

Last week, UIC leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said the group was engaged in "full-scale war" against Ethiopia.

Tensions have been high in the Horn of Africa for months, with experts warning that the Somali conflict could escalate into a regional war.

The UIC dramatically rose to power this year, taking Mogadishu in June and a series of other southern and central Somali towns afterwards. They seek to establish a religious state based on Islamic Sharia law, drawing in ethnic-Somali regions of Kenya and Ethiopia as part of a "united Somalia."

The weak transitional government, divided and limited to its base in Baidoa, is the 14th attempt at establishing central rule in the country.

Somalia has been without a strong government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre by warlords plunged the country into lawlessness.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency