MOGADISHU — Several hundred Ethiopian soldiers crossed into neighbouring Somalia at the weekend, arresting dozens of villagers linked to hardline Islamists, elders and residents told AFP on Sunday.
The Ethiopian forces, accompanied by Somali pro-government clan-based militias, entered three villages west of Beledweyn, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Mogadishu, on Saturday afternoon.
"I saw dozens of armed vehicles belonging to the Ethiopian army with some Somali militias, they entered Wagada village and detained several people before getting out of the village this morning," Husein Farah Gomey, an elder near Beledweyn told AFP by phone.
Mohamed Nur Adan, another elder in a nearby village also said that his cousin was among dozens detained for questioning by the Ethiopian forces.
"Hundreds of them entered the area late Saturday, they detained 13 people including my cousin but they later released him after questioning him for several hours," he said.
The residents said that while the Ethiopians let some of their detainees go, they took others with them.
Local Islamist officials in the region also confirmed the cross-border raid by the Ethiopian forces.
"It is not the first time they have carried out such raids inside Somalia taking innocent civilians with them, but we tell them that such provocation will only breed bloodshed," Sheik Abdurahman Sheik Mohamoud, a senior Hezb al Islam commander said.
Some of the residents told AFP the Ethiopian forces crossed from the border town of Ferfer tracing members from the Ogaden rebel group that fighting the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopian troops have entered the Beledweyn area on several occasions, with the most-recently reported raid being the end of August when they and Somali government troops drove Islamist rebels from the town.
Ethiopia ended an ill-fated two-year invasion of Somalia in January which had been aimed at uprooting Islamic extremists and consolidating the transitional government.