Somalia has announced that it is withdrawing its regular forces from the Ogaden desert region, and has called for the withdrawal of Soviet and Cuban forces on the Ethiopian side.
Somalia has announced that it is withdrawing its regular forces from the Ogaden desert region, and has called for the withdrawal of Soviet and Cuban forces on the Ethiopian side. And according to the Ethiopian Ambassador in Rome, Ethiopian forces, which began a new offensive about two weeks ago, are now within 20 miles (30 kilometres) of the Somali border.
SYNOPSIS: The Western Somali Liberation Front started a full campaign eight months ago, and made substantial advances. Its major achievement was the capture of Jijiga last September. The Front claimed to have "totally routed" the Ethiopian government forces and captures a large amount of arms and ammunition. The battlefields were littered with the wreckage of Ethiopian tanks, some American-built, and some Soviet. By November, the Western Somali offensive had taken them to the walls of Harar, key town in the area, but they were never able to make good their claim to have entered it. From then on, their advance came to a halt.
The Ethiopian government scoured the villages to drum up more troops for its militias. It was hard pressed because it was fighting another Liberation movement - - the Eritreans -- in the north at the same time.
By last month, the Ethiopians were on the offensive, and in a position to put their own captured weapons on display. They had mostly been supplied to the Liberation Front by Somalia; and to Somalia, by Arab and other Moslem states, according to the Ethiopians. These countries pledged support to Somalia after she had cut her ties with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, and Cuba, were now backing the Ethiopians.
In Harar, the Ethiopians were holding 17 Somali prisoners. Some of them said they had been there for five months. If so, they had been captured at the height of the guerrilla advance-- and could have been released if that advance had gone a short way further.
Meanwhile, in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, a state of emergency had been proclaimed, and all ex-servicemen recalled for mobilisation. Last month, for the first time, Somalia announced that it would be sending its own regular forces into Ogaden, not merely supplying the Liberation Front, Also, President Siad Barre alleged that there was a Soviet-backed plan for Ethiopia to invade Somalia itself.
The announcement that Somali regulars are to be withdrawn means that the Liberation Front guerrillas will be left on their own. They will be facing Ethiopians who are vastly superior in numbers, have been trained and equipped by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and may be under Cuban leadership. The guerrillas were driven out of Jijiga five days ago and are being forced from the mountains back through the desert to the Somali frontier. Almost all their gains of the past eight months have been lost.