Ethiopia Plays Decisive Role in Somalia Conflict In Somalia, Islamist fighters are retreating from the capital city of Mogadishu. Over the past several days, Ethiopian forces backed a campaign to halt the Islamists' drive to unseat Somalia's U.N.-backed government.
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Ethiopia Plays Decisive Role in Somalia Conflict

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Ethiopia Plays Decisive Role in Somalia Conflict

Ethiopia Plays Decisive Role in Somalia Conflict

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

In Somalia, the Islamist forces who have controlled the capital Mogadishu and a good part of the country since last summer are in retreat. Late Reports say Somali government troops have entered the city after the Islamists abandoned it. Should Somalia's weak U.N.-backed Transitional Government prevail and resume control of Mogadishu, it will owe much of that success to neighboring Ethiopia. That's because Ethiopia sent in air power and ground forces to battle the Islamists.

As NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

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GWEN THOMPKINS: For most people in Addis Ababa, the war in Somalia seems far removed from daily life. Ethiopia's military support of the Transitional Government in Somalia has landed this country in a holy war with Somalia's Islamists, the Islamic Courts Union. What's more, the Islamic Courts have threatened to attack Addis Ababa itself. But people here seem more concerned with other matters. On this weekday, many of the children went to school; many of their parents went to work. The vendors got to vending, the beggars got to begging, and even the birds revved up for their morning sing-along.

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THOMPKINS: But somewhere in the air was the faint sound of crowing. Amare Aregawi is the editor-in-chief and owner of The Reporter, one of the daily newspapers here. He's a true believer in Ethiopia's war with the Islamic Courts Union. He says the Islamic Courts have been commandeered by foreign extremists who threaten the entire region.

Mr. AMARE AREGAWI (Editor, “The Reporter”): There is an international extremist force who wants to settle in the Horn of Africa and East Africa, and the force will expand to Africa. That force has to be dismantled, weakened.

THOMPKINS: Over the weekend, the Islamic Courts announced plans for a guerilla war against Ethiopia. But Aregawi is betting all the way on the superiority of Ethiopia's military, a force forged in part in a long-fought rebellion that overthrew former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Mr. AREGAWI: We shouldn't forget the backbone of the Ethiopian military. This is a force that has toppled the previous government through guerilla warfare. They have been themselves 17 years in the bush with guerilla warfaring - the very force itself that is in Somalia now.

THOMPKINS: That's the kind of talk that makes Somali national Mogadin Orasuge(ph) think about buying a ticket home. Orasuge has a wife and six children in Mogadishu. He also lives in a neighborhood in Addis that the people here call Mogadishu. He couldn't be happier with the way the war is going.

Mr. MOGADIN ORASUGE: Yes, yes, yes, yes, we are very glad that. We are very glad, very glad, because after this time I can go to my country, to my home. If the government is there in Mogadishu, I will go to my home.

THOMPKINS: But there are some people in Addis who wanted to avoid war in Somalia altogether.

Mr. BEYENE PETROS (Union of Ethiopian Democratic Forces): Well, we're not convinced that the situation did warrant a declaration of war.

THOMPKINS: That's Beyene Petros. He is one of the few vocal members of Ethiopia's political opposition. In parliament, his party opposed a bill to move Ethiopia closer to war with the Islamic Courts. Petros says his country should be spending more of its energies on eradicating poverty at home, feeding the hungry and in resolving its ongoing border dispute with Eritrea. But he says that many political activists here do not feel free to talk publicly. That's because many of Ethiopia's political dissenters have been jailed since elections last year.

Mr. PETROS: The (unintelligible). You see, the thing is not that it is in the policy of the government or a (unintelligible) or the law of the land of not (unintelligible) provides protection, but one of our parliamentarians threatened on the street, you know, who voted with us.

THOMPKINS: And Issac Eshid(ph), a Muslim student at Addis Ababa University, says that many young people especially are against the war.

Mr. ISSAC ESHID (Student, Addis Ababa University): The Ethiopian Christians, the Ethiopian Muslims, especially the youngsters, are really against this war. Nobody wants a war.

THOMPKINS: Eshid has plenty of opinions he'd like to share about how Ethiopia has handled the Islamic Courts Union. So do his friends. But for now, they and many Ethiopians prefer to keep their opinions to themselves.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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