Ethiopia Warplanes Bomb Somalia's Islamic Council

Ethiopia said Sunday that it is waging war on the Islamist Courts Movement, which now controls most of neighboring Somalia. Warplanes bombed several targets in Somalia on Sunday. Jacki Lyden gets an update from Gwen Thompkins in Nairobi.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Coming up: how the ethical decisions of individuals changed the course of history in one small American town.

But first, Ethiopian warplanes bombed several towns in neighboring Somalia today. Ethiopia's prime minister says his country has been forced to enter a war against Somalia's Islamic courts movement.

NPR's East Africa correspondent, Gwen Thompkins, is following the situation from Nairobi. I asked her about today's bombardment by the Ethiopia air force.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, the air strikes took place in about four different locations around Somalia, and these locations are all within about 200 kilometers of Bidoa, which is the transitional government seat. Ethiopia has committed to supporting Somalia's transitional government and it's believed that they have thousands of fighters on the ground there.

Now, Ethiopia's presence has prompted the Islamic Courts Union this weekend to call for Muslim fighters everywhere - this is around the world - to come to the region and fight Ethiopia.

Now, Ethiopia today called its air strike a defensive measure against the Islamic Courts Union, in large part because the Islamic court has characterized its part in the fight this week as solely a fight against Ethiopians.

LYDEN: Gwen, is either side, either the Islamic Courts Union or the transitional government, gaining any ground?

THOMPKINS: Well, that has been extremely difficult to confirm, any kind of progress on either side. But the people I've spoken with have said that the Islamic courts, which control the capital city of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia, have ceded some ground.

But Jacki, you have to take that into perspective. Now, before the fighting, the transitional government of Somalia controlled only one city and that was Bidoa; that's the seat of the transitional government. So if they so much as take a cow patch, then that means that the Islamic Courts Union has ceded some ground. But that being said, there are reports of dozens of fighters who've been killed on both sides, and from what both sides are saying, there appears to be more deaths among the Islamist fighters.

LYDEN: Gwen, aren't Somalis also coping with horrible flooding just now?

THOMPKINS: Absolutely. The United Nations estimates that half a million Somalis have been flooded out of their homes, and the U.N. says that they've only been able to reach about half of those people. People have lost their cattle, they've lost their farmland. For many weeks, many of them were losing their lives because they were being attacked by crocodiles in the flood waters.

LYDEN: I understand you had a difficult time trying to get in to see the flooding.

THOMPKINS: I did, actually. The United Nations offers journalists some seats on flights that are going to southern Somalia. There was one of those flights scheduled on Saturday. The U.N. called me on Friday night and said that I was off the flight, that the Islamic Courts Union did not want an American coming into that area of Somalia.

LYDEN: NPR's Gwen Thompkins speaking from Nairobi. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Gwen.

THOMPKINS: Oh, thank you.

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