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Questions Raised Over Contents of Newly Arrived Cargo Plane in Somali Capital


For the second time this week, a large plane arrived in the Islamists-controlled Somali capital of Mogadishu Friday, carrying an unknown cargo. But many people believe it contains weapons from Eritrea, which the Islamist leadership in Somalia denies. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Mogadishu says, reports of military activity by rivals Eritrea and Ethiopia in Somalia are fueling fears of a proxy war.

A Russian-made Illuyshin-76 cargo plane touched down early Friday morning at the recently reopened Mogadishu airport. It had the same Kazakhstan Airways markings as a plane that landed Wednesday.

In both cases, there was extraordinary security. Islamic militiamen sealed off all roads and prevented curious on-lookers from gathering near the facility. But some eyewitnesses said that they saw several large trucks leaving the airport in a convoy a short while after the plane landed.

The arrival of the two planes this week is fueling speculation among Somalis that neighboring Eritrea is helping to arm Somali Islamists, who are facing a possible showdown with Ethiopian troops, believed to be protecting the country's secular and highly vulnerable interim government, which has its headquarters 250 kilometers away in the town of Baidoa.

In May, a United Nations report said that Eritrea had violated a long-standing arms embargo on Somalia by funneling weapons to Islamists.

Deputy Interim Prime Minister Ismail Hurreh in Baidoa tells VOA that his government is receiving intelligence that Eritrea is not only supplying Islamists with arms, but has also sent troops to back up the Islamic militias.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody war from 1998 to 2000, and both countries have a history of backing rebel groups in the region to destabilize each other.

"We are getting highly reliable information that a vessel has unloaded 500 Eritrean fighters along the Somali coast, and they are going to join with forces in Mogadishu," said Hurreh. "For Eritrea to simply come to Somalia to fight a proxy war against Ethiopia will fuel trouble in the whole region."

In Mogadishu, a spokesman for the Supreme Islamic Council that controls the capital and much of the south of the country dismissed unconfirmed reports that Eritreans are in Mogadishu and in other parts of Islamists-controlled areas of southern Somalia. The spokesman, Abdurahim Ali Mudi, also denies that the Islamists are accepting weapons shipments from Eritrea.

Mudi says there are enough weapons in Somalia, and the aim of his group is to make the country secure by taking them off the streets, not bring more weapons into the country.

For weeks, top interim government leaders in Baidoa denied that Ethiopian troops were in Somalia to protect the government. But on Thursday, 18 Cabinet ministers resigned, protesting, among other things, what they said was the Ethiopian troop presence in the country.

The May U.N. report, which criticized Eritrea, also criticized Ethiopia for giving support to secular factional leaders, who fought against Islamic militias for control of Mogadishu.

Islamic leaders - some with alleged ties to al-Qaida - took control of most of the capital in early June, alarming largely Christian Ethiopia, the United States and other western countries.

The United States has urged Somalis to seek a dialogue, aimed at creating a unity government, and has called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to avoid any actions, which could hamper that effort.

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