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Ethiopian, Somali Government Troops Score Major Advances Against Somali Islamists

Ethiopian and Somali government troops have scored major advances in their battle with Islamist forces for control of Somalia.

Witness and media reports say the pro-government forces took control of at least four towns in central Somalia, Bur Hakaba, Dinsor, Bandiradley and Adodo, Tuesday after Islamist fighters withdrew.

A Somali government official says Ethiopian troops are less than 100 kilometers from the Islamist-held Somali capital, Mogadishu.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his forces have broken the back of the Islamists.

In New York, the top United Nations envoy to Somalia urged the Security Council to call for an immediate ceasefire and for the parties to return to dialogue without preconditions.

The U.S. State Department defended Ethiopia's actions, saying Ethiopia has genuine security concerns in Somalia and has intervened at the request of the country's legitimate government. However, the State Department also urged Ethiopia to show maximum restraint.

The White House says President Bush phoned Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday to discuss tensions in the Horn of Africa. Uganda has offered to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia.

The fighting in Somalia broke out December 19th after months of rising tension as the Islamic Courts movement took over much of the country's center and south.

The Islamists declared what they called a holy war on Ethiopia after it sent troops to the Somali government's home base of Baidoa.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday the fighting has wounded at least 800 people.

Ethiopia's prime minister spoke of one-thousand killed and more than three-thousand wounded. None of the figures have been independently confirmed.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Some information for this report provided by AP.