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Ethiopian leader warns on Islamists

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopia's prime minister, who has sent troops to bolster Somalia's interim government, said yesterday that the Islamic rebels controlling much of the neighboring nation are a threat to the Horn of Africa and the wider world.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he held out little hope that the secular, UN-backed acting government in Somalia can reach a peace agreement with the militants.

"Apparently some people believe that the Al Qaeda elements in Mogadishu . . . are people one can talk to in a reasonable manner, that they can be convinced not to be extremists," Meles said in an interview.

The extremists "represent a direct threat first to Somalia and the Somali people, second to the region and Ethiopia, and lastly to the international community," he said. "When they control the whole of Somalia, it would be very naive to assume that they will mend their ways, cease to be terrorists, and become very civilized and very tame pussycats."

Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation, backs Somalia's two-year-old acting government, which has failed to exert influence outside its base in the western city of Baidoa. Eritrea, a nation that broke away from Ethiopia in a 1961-1991 civil war and fought a 1998-2000 border war with its rival, supports the Islamic militia.

A confidential UN report obtained by the Associated Press on Friday said about 7,000 Ethiopian soldiers are in Somalia or at the border while 2,000 troops from Eritrea are in Somalia. Eritrea denied having any troops in Somalia, and Ethiopia says it sent only a few hundred advisers. Meles's confirmation on sending in advisers prompted the Islamic militia to declare holy war against Ethiopia.

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