MOGADISHU, Somalia – Islamic militiamen are fighting Ethiopian troops in a southern Somalia town, a top Islamic official said Friday.
If true, it will be the first time the Islamic militia that control most of southern Somalia will have fought directly with Ethiopian troops.
"New fighting has started in Dinsor. Our forces have been raided by Ethiopian troops, so people get up and fight against the Ethiopians," Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed told a crowd of hundreds after Friday prayers.
"Stand up and overcome the enemies who have invaded our land," he told the people, who had gathered to protest a U.N. resolution allowing an African peacekeeping force into Somalia.
Islamic militiamen seized Dinsor on Saturday without encountering any resistance or firing a single shot. On Sunday, hundreds of Somali transitional government troops backed by Ethiopian troops began amassing near Dinsor, sparking fears in the town of heavy fighting, forcing dozens to flee.
The Council of Islamic Courts, the official name of the group that controls much of southern Somalia, organized protests in three major towns against a U.N. resolution to allow an African peacekeeping force for Somalia and easing an arms embargo so the force can operate in Somalia.
Earlier Friday, an Islamic courts official claimed that Ethiopian troops had shelled the central Somalia town of Bandiradley, while residents of a nearby village said they had seen Ethiopian troops and tanks take up new positions near the town.
Protesters in the western Somalia town of Belet Weyne chanted slogans such as "Down with the impartial resolution from the United Nations Security Council," as did their fellow demonstrators in the port town of Kismayo and Mogadishu.
In total, thousands demonstrated against Wednesday's U.N. resolution allowing for an African peacekeeping force for Somalia and easing a 14-year arms embargo on Somalia so such a force can equip itself.
However, the resolution stopped Somalia's neighbors — Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya — from contributing troops.
Friday's shelling of Bandiradley, have shelled, about 390 miles northeast of the capital, Mogadishu, would be the second time in 10 days that the Ethiopians are reported to fired at the town that is controlled by the Islamic courts.
"Ethiopian soldiers have massed around Bandiradley soon after the arms embargo had been lifted and started firing missiles toward our positions," said Sheikh Abdullahi Ali Hashi, a spokesman for the Council of Islamic Courts told The Associated Press by telephone from central Somalia.
Hashi said that the Ethiopian troops made the attack accompanied by militiamen loyal to warlord Abdi Hassan Awale, who is also known as Abdi Qeybdiid.
Eyewitnesses in Dagaari village near Bandiradley said that they saw hundreds of Ethiopian troops and tanks take up new positions near the town in coordination with militiamen from the northeastern semi autonomous region of Puntland and Qeybdiid's militia.
They said that this new movement puts these forces and their rival Islamic courts' militias only 1.2 miles apart.
"Ethiopians and their ally regional militia have increased their military presence here. Now they are advancing towards Bandiradley," said a local resident on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.
On Nov. 28, the Islamic courts claimed that Ethiopian troops shelled 12 missiles on Bandiradley, about two weeks after Islamic militiamen seized the town.