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Rebels attack Somalia: Ethiopia, Cuba involved?

Somali rebels undoubtedly regard the heavy military attacks against Somalia along the Ethiopian border this month as a coup de grace against President Siad Barre's 13-year rule.

The attacks come at a time when the Somali President is involved in a deep internal crisis within his own ruling Somalia Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP). A few weeks ago he ordered the arrest of seven of his more prominent supporters, including a vice-president, Brig. Gen. Ismail Ali Abokor, and former Foreign Minister Umar Arteh Ghalib.

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President Barre has complained to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) that his country is being invaded by Ethiopian troops, backed up by Cubans. Radio Mogadishu has broadcast claims that thousands of Ethiopians and a number of Cubans have been killed since the attacks began on July 1.

But it will be as difficult to prove the Somali allegation as it was to rebut the similar Ethiopian charge against Somalis during the 1977-78 fighting in the Ogaden, a contested border region ruled by Ethiopia.

At that time, President Barre at first insisted that all the fighting in the Ogaden was being carried on by the Somalis. In the end he had to admit that his Army was engaged in support of the Western Somali Liberation Front, a group that in fact is comprised of Ogadeni Somalis.

In the current situation, Ethiopians are deriding Somali allegations that Ethiopian troops and Cubans are engaged in attacks against Somalia. Ethiopia insist that the raids are conducted by Somali ''liberation fighters'' organized by the Democratic Front for Somalia.

Only two facts can be stated with certainty.

First, that it is undoubtedly true that rebel Somalis are spearheading the military attack. Second, that these forces are trained and armed by the Ethiopian Army, and that their exile leadership is based in Addis Ababa.

This means that there is an undeniable link between the Ethiopians and those seeking to overthrow President Barre.

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No military action of this kind would be remotely possible without the active collaboration between the Ethiopian regime of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Somali ''liberation'' forces.

Mengistu's regime makes no secret of its wish to see the overthrow of the present Somali regime, an objective they share clearly with Barre's Somali opponents.

Besides the Ethiopians, there are other forces actively hostile to Barre regime. These include Libya, South Yemen, and the Soviet Union.

Ethiopian hostility is explained by Barre's role in seeking to bring about the secession of Ogaden from Ethiopia. The Soviets are unforgiving of Barre's decision to expel them from Somalia.

All Barre's opponents, domestic and foreign, are united in their determination to see the scrapping of a treaty Somali-US treaty that provides the Americans with military facilities at Berbera.

In the Ogaden, it was virtually impossible to differentiate between the Somalis who live in that province and the Somali intruders. They are indistinguishable.

A similar difficulty arises in the fighting in Somalia, since, Somali rebels no doubt have the support of many disgruntled and disillusioned Ogadeni Somalis.

It is possible to prove the Somali allegation of Ethiopian and Cuban involvement only if the Barre government can produce casualties of the actual fighting. So far no such identification has been established.

It would indeed be remarkable if the Ethiopians or Cubans were directly involved in the front-line engagements.

However, what seems more likely is that the Ethiopians and Cubans play a vicarious one in the Somali border fighting.

They provide the weapons and back-up support to sustain the Somali opposition , while remaining in the rear of fighting.

Thus, while Ethiopia is undoubtedly involved in the military attack against Somalia, it is less certain that they are engaged in the actual fighting.

It seems unlikely the OAU will be able to intervene actively to put an end to the fighting since the organization is in the final stages of preparing for its summit Aug. 5.

It is likely, therefore, that the Somali complaint of aggression against Ethiopia will be fully discussed when the OAU ministers at summit preparatory meeting July 26.

By that time the situation in Somalia likely will have changed - but it is difficult to predict whether the result will be defeat of the attackers or the downfall of President Barre.

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