Somalia’s Islamist Shabaab rebels warned Ethiopia on Sunday they would “break the necks” of their troops inside Somalia, a day after several hundred soldiers crossed into the war-torn country.
“Soldiers of our enemy, the black colonialists of Ethiopia, made some movements into our region on Saturday, but they do not scare us,” said Sheikh Yusuf Ali Ugas, the insurgent group’s commander for the Hiran region.
“We will break the necks of the invaders. ... Our troops are ready for anything, if the Ethiopian enemy try to attack us,” Ugas added, speaking on the group’s radio Al Andalus.
Ethiopian troops in lorries and armored vehicles entered southern and central Somali regions, local elders said on Saturday, although Addis Ababa has denied all reports.
No fighting has so far been reported, and the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab militia said their positions were secure.
“We shall defeat them and fight them any way we can,” Ugas said. “The Ethiopian attack is a plan to oppose the implementation of Sharia law in Somalia by the enemies of our Muslim nation.”
Small numbers of Ethiopian forces have been reported operating in Somali border regions in the recent past, but witnesses said the scale of troop movements was far larger this time.
The numbers of troops reported suggest that Addis Ababa could be making its first large-scale incursion since it invaded Somalia in 2006 with US backing.
It pulled out three years later after a sparking bloody uprising against its forces and failing to restore order in its lawless neighbor, which has lacked a functioning government for two decades.
Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti on Saturday dismissed the reports outright, saying there were “absolutely no troops in Somalia.”
Hardline Shabaab insurgents control much of southern Somalia, but are battling both the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and Kenyan troops in the far south, who crossed the border last month to attack rebel strongholds.