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Somali Islamists Report Heavy Fighting With Ethiopians

Heavy fighting has erupted in southern Somalia between the country's powerful Islamist movement and forces allied to the weak interim government.

Witnesses say the fighting around the town of Dinsoor Friday was fierce and led to casualties.

The Islamists' foreign affairs minister, Ibrahim Hassan Adou, tells VOA that Islamist fighters defeated a force of 1,800 Ethiopians.

However, the French news agency, AFP, quotes the interim government's defense minister, Salat Ali Jelle, as saying the Islamists were defeated.

In Ethiopia, state media cite the country's foreign ministry as saying no Ethiopian troops were involved in the fighting.

Somalis have been bracing for an outbreak of war for weeks, amid rising tension between Ethiopia and the Islamists. Ethiopia has an undetermined number of soldiers in Somalia to protect the interim government.

Earlier Friday, a spokesman for the Islamic courts, Sheikh Abdullahi, accused Ethiopian forces of shelling the Islamist-controlled town of Bandiradley in central Somalia late Thursday. Witnesses confirm fighting in the area.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council authorized sending peacekeepers to the Horn of Africa country. The Somali government welcomed the decision, while the Islamists vowed to fight any foreign troops that enter Somali territory.

The interim government has little authority outside its base of Baidoa, located about 100 kilometers north of Dinsoor. Islamist forces, meanwhile, have seized increasing amounts of territory since winning a battle for Mogadishu in June.

Diplomats fear the Somali conflict could grow to draw in Ethiopia's rival Eritrea, which supports the Islamists.

Somalia has been without an effective central authority since 1991.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.