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Reports from southern Somalia say that many people have fled villages in the Lower Shabelle region following attacks by Ethiopian troops and local Rahanwein militiamen.

Ethiopia reportedly agreed to withdraw its forces from Somalia late last year under a deal with the Somali warlord, Hussein Aideed, who expelled some Ethiopian Islamic rebels from Somalia in return.

On Monday, the villages of Da'arrey and Bulo Waboh were captured by the RRA, significantly enlarging the area controlled by the movement.

The RRA has adopted a new tactic of attacking before dawn without battle wagons.This is probably to reduce the number of casualties, but three men were killed in Da'arrey village after refusing to lay down their guns.

Looting

Widespread looting was reported during yesterday's attacks. Shops were ransacked and merchants have accused Ethiopian forces of stealing their money and goods.

However, one shopkeeper said the invaders were in fact RRA fighters wearing Ethiopian army uniforms. A woman said she could clearly understand the Rahanwein dialect as they spoke to each other.

Crisis meeting

Islamic militia commanders and court officials in Lower Shabelleh have been holding a crisis meeting about the attacks.

One senior official told a BBC correspondent that the Islamic courts will not tolerate any kind of Ethiopian-led provocation in the region.

However, Mohamed Ali Aden Qalinleh, a former RRA spokesman who is now governor of the neighbouring Bay region, says his forces have the right to go wherever they like in what he described as "Rahanwein territories", which he said include the Lower Shabelleh region.

He denied that Ethiopians were involved in the attacks. The renewed hostilities in Lower Shabelleh are further weakening the already precarious situation in famine-stricken Bakol region.

Roads are being closed, meaning that precious food and supplies cannot reach the malnourished population.

 
 



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