U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling on Somalia's neighbors to avoid provocative acts amid reports that foreign troops in the country could trigger "all out war."
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric Friday would not confirm news accounts saying as many as 10,000 foreign troops are massing in Somalia. He did say, however, that Secretary-General Kofi Annan is aware of the reports through what he called "the parties and the press."
The Associated Press earlier quoted a "confidential U.N. report" estimating that between 6,000 and 8,000 Ethiopians and 2,000 fully equipped Eritrean troops "are now inside Somalia." It said some of the troops support the internationally recognized government, others are backing the rival Islamic movement.
The AP said the confidential briefing paper was written to help senior U.N. officials in efforts to provide aid to one of the world's most impoverished nations.
Spokesman Dujarric said the U.N. does not comment on what he called "leaked documents." But he said Mr. Annan has cautioned all parties not to further heighten tensions that are said to be near the breaking point.
"The secretary-general stresses that the solution in Somalia is political and not military," said Mr. Dujarric. "He urges the Somali parties to settle their differences through dialogue, and he calls on the international community, especially Somalia's neighbors, to avoid any action that could further aggravate the situation."
Word of the foreign troop buildup spread as a leader of Somalia's Islamist movement called on followers to attack any Ethiopian forces found on Somali territory. News reports says crowds in Mogadishu cheered Friday as Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed called for a "jihad" or holy war against mainly Christian Ethiopia.
Ethiopia supports the interim administration in Mogadishu, and has acknowledged sending a few hundred military instructors to train Somali government forces. But witnesses have put the number of Ethiopian troops in the country much higher.
Ethiopia has repeatedly accused Eritrea of arming and supporting the Islamist movement. Both Eritrean and Islamic movement officials have denied the charge.
The United States warned both Ethiopia and Eritrea Thursday not to stoke tensions in Somalia. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on both countries to adopt a "constructive approach". He said the United States is watching closely as events unfold in the shattered Horn of Africa nation.