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Ethiopian Troops Clash with Somali-Based Rebels


Ethiopia says its troops have engaged separatist rebels in the east of the country, killing 13 and capturing several senior commanders, after they crossed the border from Somalia. Ethiopia accuses both Eritrea and Islamic leaders in Somalia of fomenting civil unrest in Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian government says the captured members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front have confessed to being both armed and trained by arch-enemy Eritrea and Islamists in Somalia.

The rebels are ethnic Somalis, who have been fighting the Ethiopian government for autonomy in the Ogaden region for nearly 15 years. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says his government began a military campaign against them, after talks between Somali elders and rebel representatives last week failed to curb the group's activities against Ethiopia.

VOA was unable to reach Eritrean and Somali officials for comment.

Tension has been building in the Horn of Africa in recent weeks, following unconfirmed reports that Ethiopian troops had crossed into Somalia to protect Somalia's secular interim government from Islamic forces. Ethiopia and the United Nations have accused Eritrea of supplying Somali Islamists with weapons to fight Ethiopia, and trying to start a proxy war in the Horn of Africa.

Meanwhile, authorities in Kenya announced on Friday that Kenyan troops, in a joint mission with the Ethiopian army, arrested over 40 fighters of another rebel group along the Kenyan-Ethiopian border.

The district commissioner of the northern Kenyan region of Mayale, Vincent Okioma, tells Reuters news agency that the members of the Oromo Liberation Front were apprehended over the past five days. He says Kenyan forces have been given authority by the Ethiopian government to patrol both sides of the border for the next two months to help bring security to the region.

Friday's developments follow the defection of a dissident Ethiopian general, who fled to Eritrea late Thursday. General Kemal Gelchu, who is an ethnic Oromo, told reporters in the Eritrean capital Asmara that he intends to join the Oromo Liberation Front and fight the Ethiopian government, which, he says, has marginalized and repressed the Oromo people for years.

The Oromo Liberation Front was originally formed as a secessionist movement. But it now says its mission is to fight for the rights of the Oromo people in Ethiopia.

Although the Eritrean government has never acknowledged backing rebels in Ethiopia, it has welcomed General Kemal and his troops. On a government Web site, Eritrea says their defection is a sign of growing disaffection by Ethiopians with Prime Minister Meles' government.

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been hostile since they fought a bitter two-year border war four years ago.