In a statement, the Ethiopian foreign ministry said "there is no Ethiopian soldier in Somalia" and described the accusation as "totally groundless and with no grain of truth".
On Tuesday, Muhammad Abdi Yusuf, the deputy speaker of the Transitional National Assembly and acting leader of the TNG delegation to the peace talks underway n Kenya, told IRIN that Ethiopian troops had "occupied parts of Somalia over the past few days". He added that "so long as Ethiopia is part of the mediation group, the TNG will not participate".
Ethiopia, along with Djibouti and the conference's host Kenya, is part of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) technical committee which is steering the talks.
The Ethiopian statement said the TNG was making the allegations because it was unhappy with the progress of the talks in Kenya and was therefore using Ethiopia as a scapegoat in an attempt to scuttle them.
It went on to say that Ethiopia was only interested in peace and stability in the region, "as well as [along] its borders". It challenged the TNG to prove the allegations, and invited any interested party to "visit and verify the presence of Ethiopian troops across Ethiopia's border inside Somalia".
However, TNG Prime Minister Hasan Abshir Farah told IRIN on Thursday that it had "become a habit for them [Ethiopians] to issue blanket denials".
"After continuous denials, [Prime Minister] Meles admitted to having sent troops to Somalia," he said.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi admitted that his country had occasionally sent troops into Somalia to attack members of the Islamist Al-Ittihad al-Islami group.
"We know they are there. They know they are there. Let them withdraw," Hasan told IRIN.
Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129
[This Item is Delivered to the "Africa-English" Service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: IRIN@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.irinnews.org . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Reposting by commercial sites requires written IRIN permission.]
Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003