December 22, 2006

HARRISONBURG—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, was interviewed today on a Voice of America (VOA) news segment on the mounting tensions between the Islamist movement that has seized much of Somalia and the government of neighboring Ethiopia which are fueling a potentially devastating conflict.

Dr. Pham told Nairobi-based VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu that he believed the Islamists are using Ethiopia’s preemptive self-defense as an excuse to unite Somalis under their radical banner: “In many respects, Ethiopia is the worst possible intervener in the Somali situation because of the history between the two peoples. A lot of the support that is engendered for the Islamist movement in Somalia right now is nationalistic support in face of what is perceived to be an Ethiopian invasion.”

While the Ethiopians previously defeated the same group of Islamists, then hailing themselves as al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (“Islamic Union”), under the military leadership of the same man who currently heads the Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Dr. Pham said that this time defeating the radical cleric and his supporters would be more difficult because of the changed dynamics of the global war on terrorism: “These are people, who in the 1990s, carried out terrorist attacks within Ethiopia, including the attempted assassination of a minister in Addis Ababa…So, there is a clear record of terrorism vis-à-vis Ethiopia and for what they lack in tactical experience, some of the foreign elements now coming into Somalia will bring that with them. So, it is a very clear danger that this may spiral into an insurgency-slash-terrorist campaign that will engulf the region.”

o read a transcript of or to listen to an audio stream from the segment, click here