MOGADISHU, Somalia --The leader of the Islamists who now control most of southern Somalia accused the United States yesterday of orchestrating what he called a border incursion by hundreds of Ethiopian troops.
"We want the whole world to know what's going on," Sheik Sharif Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, told reporters in the provincial town of Jowhar. "The United States is encouraging Ethiopia to take over the area."
American officials said they were not involved in an incursion, and Ethiopian authorities denied the claims that several hundred of their soldiers had entered Somalia in the southwestern Gedo region yesterday morning. Ethiopian officials told reporters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, that their troops had massed on their side of the border to prevent an incursion from the Islamists in Somalia.
"Ethiopia has a right to monitor its border," said Bereket Simon, an adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The reports touch on a concern in Somalia. Ethiopia has sent troops into Somalia in the past to root out suspected militants, and the Ethiopian government has distanced itself from the new Islamist administration in Mogadishu. It favors instead the fledging transitional government led by President Abdullahi Yusuf that is based well outside Mogadishu, in the provincial town of Baidoa.
It is clear, however, that the Islamists in Mogadishu now hold the bulk of the power in the country.
The militias associated with them have sealed their grip on most of the south. They first defeated Mogadishu's longtime warlords June 6 after months of fighting that left more than 300 people dead and thousands injured.
The Islamists set up shariah courts, based on Islamic law, across Somalia in recent years, trying to pull the country from its long decline into anarchy. They have been accused by the United States of harboring a small number of al-Qaida suspects. Courts Union leaders deny links to extremists.
On Friday, the Courts Union arranged a large demonstration in Mogadishu against plans to allow foreign peacekeepers into Somalia to quell the long spell of violence. "We will be able to bring peace without bringing in foreign troops," said Sheik Abdulkadir Ali Omar, the deputy chairman of the Courts Union.