Guns were silent in the sole stronghold of Somalia's interim government yesterday as an Islamist deadline to Ethiopian troops to leave or face holy war passed with conciliatory signs.
Around the dusty agricultural trading post where Somalia's shaky government conducts business from a converted warehouse, residents reported calm despite the threat by the country's Islamist movement.
Nonetheless, the Islamists and Ethiopian-backed government troops remained dug in along a tense frontline just kilometres apart.
Baidoa is a potential ground zero in what many fear will become a regional war, sucking in Horn of Africa rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea and spawning suicide bombings in east Africa.
The Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC) said they wanted peace talks, and backed off a threat by defence chief Yusuf Mohamed Siad "Inda'ade" that gave the Ethiopians a week to leave thrusting war fears into overdrive.
"We want the talks to continue and the Ethiopian troops to leave," SICC spokesman Abdirahman Ali Mudey said. "We did not mean we will attack them if they don't pull out but that talks cannot go ahead unless they pull out."
Inda'ade has made inflammatory remarks in the past, and experts say there has always been a moderate-hardline split in the SICC, which kicked US-backed warlords out of Mogadishu in June and have since taken over most of southern Somalia.
The government dismissed the deadline as the latest unfulfilled threat by the SICC, who had pledged jihad (holy war) against Ethiopians soldiers they view as invaders but then said they would only fight a defensive war.
"We only care about their actions and not what they say. As previously said by the president, we will not be the first to attack," Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama "Jangali" said.
Ethiopia says it has only a few hundred military trainers in Somalia. Military experts believe there are roughly 15,000-20,000 Ethiopian combat troops there.
Source: China Daily