MOGADISHU, Somalia – About 100 Ethiopian troops crossed the border into Somalia on Saturday, witnesses said, the latest sign that Ethiopia might try to bolster this country's weak interim government as an Islamic militia gains increasing power.
The troops entered the border town of Beled-Hawo in eight military vehicles, Husein Ali Burale, a well-known traditional elder, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Several other witnesses also confirmed the report.
"The commander of the troops asked the people of the town to show calm and not worry about their presence," said Ali Mohamed Siyad, a resident of Beled-Hawo. Attempts to reach Ethiopian officials were not immediately successful.
Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, in an Internet posting Saturday, warned nations not to send troops to Somalia and urged Somalis to support militants of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council who have seized control of most of southern Somalia and claim authority throughout the country.
"Put your hands in the hands of the Islamic Courts to build an Islamic state in Somalia," said the voice attributed to bin Laden in his second audio message released in two days. The authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified.
Bin Laden lashed out at the president of Somalia's secular U.N.-backed government, Abdullahi Yusuf, calling him a "traitor."
"We pledge that we will fight your soldiers on the land of Somalia and we will fight you on your own land if you dispatch troops to Somalia."
In a message a day earlier, bin Laden described Somalia as a battleground in his global war on the United States.
Mogadishu resident Sacido Moalim, a mother of eight, said the bin Laden tape concerned her because it seems he wants Somalia to become "a safe haven for terrorists."
"He himself may want to come here. We do not want that Americans become our enemies," she said.
Thousands of Somalis have taken to the streets in recent weeks to denounce alleged interference by Ethiopia, their longtime enemy. The Islamic militia said last month that 300 Ethiopian soldiers had entered the country.
But Yusuf is allied with Ethiopia and has asked for its support. Ethiopia has intervened in Somalia in the past to prevent Islamic extremists from taking power.
The interim government is internationally recognized but wields no real power outside its base in Baidoa, 90 miles from Mogadishu. And the increasingly power of the Islamic militia has further marginalized the U.N.-backed government.
One member of the interim government, Parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adam, urged the Islamic militia to compromise on Saturday.
"If both sides compromise, we can share what we have," Adam said during celebrations marking the 46th anniversary of Somalia's independence from Italy.
The developments in the Horn of Africa are of particular concern in the West, which fears Somalia could be another Taliban Afghanistan — a lawless land offering terrorists a base from which to strike. Washington has accused the Islamic militia of harboring Al Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In the weeks since the Islamists took over last month, there were initial signs their rule might be moderate: The group agreed to recognize the interim government and stop all military action. But last weekend, it replaced a relatively moderate cleric as its leader with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list as a suspected al-Qaida collaborator.
The militia then said it would not consult anybody about its rule.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence.
Many of the capital's residents applauded the Islamic group for ridding Mogadishu of the widely despised warlords.
On Saturday, one of the warlords who had been keeping a low profile announced plans to hand over all of his weapons to the Islamic militants. Omar Mohamud Mohamed said he was surrendering nine vehicles and many guns.