Hardline Islamists have been waging an 18-month insurgency that has drawn comparisons with Iraq to undermine the interim government and its Ethiopian backers since the rebels were ousted from Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia in 2007.
“The joint Ethiopian army and forces of the Somali Transitional Federal government destroyed a group of 71 terrorists in a military operation launched in Meteban and Gura’el areas on June 29,” the television report quoted a military spokesman as saying late on Thursday.
“A Canadian colonel, who was being sought for international terrorism, and 13 top leaders of the Islamic Courts Union and al Shaabab were among those killed in the operation,” the report said.
Insurgent troops were preparing to launch an offensive around Meteban and Gura’el areas in central Somalia, he said.
But a spokesman of the Islamist movement said only seven fighters were killed and nine others wounded in the clashes.
“The news from the Ethiopian State Agency is totally fabricated,” rebel spokesman Sheikh Abdirahim Issa Adow told Reuters. “We killed many Ethiopians and burnt their military vehicles but they do not admit to that.”
He denied the insurgents had a Canadian colonel in their ranks. “Ethiopians claimed to have killed Colonel Abdi Ahmed, who we do not know,” Adow said adding that no government soldier was involved in the fighting.
The Horn of Africa country has been in near-perpetual conflict since the 1991