Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Fighting restarts in Somalia as Islamists tighten stranglehold

THEOCRACY After a brief respite, conflict has broken out anew, as `nobody can have authority in the city beyond the Islamic courts,' said a senior Islamic official


A Somali fighter lies in hospital with gunshot wounds after fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Sunday. Islamic militia fighters attacked an enclave of rival clan militiamen supporting a secular warlord who refused to disarm, witnesses and officials said, as the Islamists consolidate their control of the Somali capital.


Deadly gunfire and explosions wracked Mogadishu after weeks of relative calm, as the Islamic militiamen controlling Somalia's capital battled one of the last pockets of resistance to their hard-line rule.

At least 25 people were killed on Monday. Residents hid in homes and shops, or fled, as the Islamist fighters attacked the forces of secular warlord Abdi Awale Qaybdiid, who has refused to disarm.

More than 40 people have died in the fighting since Sunday.

Relations appeared to be deteriorating between the Islamic fighters and Somalia's virtually powerless UN-backed interim government, which said it would not talk with the militia's radical leader when the two sides meet on Saturday in Sudan under Arab League auspices to negotiate a full peace accord.

The interim administration watched from its base 145km from the capital last month as the Islamists chased out almost all the secular warlords and seized control of Mogadishu and much of surrounding southern Somalia.

The government and Islamic fighters signed a nonaggression agreement at a June 22 meeting in Sudan.

But Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said the government would not take part in peace talks involving the group's radical leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys.

"We will not sit with radical members of the Islamic Courts, we will sit with those who are moderates," he told reporters.

The US has alleged that Aweys has ties to al-Qaeda, and his fighters have grown increasingly radical since wresting Mogadishu from the secular warlords and establishing strict Islamic courts.

"The war was inevitable because nobody can have authority in the city beyond the Islamic courts," Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a top Islamic official, said of the renewed fighting.

Hospital officials said the death toll in Mogadishu was likely to rise.

"People are having difficulty reaching hospitals because of roadblocks," Abdi Ibrahim Jiya, a medical practitioner, told reporters.

Somalia has been without an effective government since warlords overthrew its longtime dictator in 1991 and divided the nation into fiefdoms. The Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the vacuum as an alternative military and political power.

The US has long-standing concerns that the volatile Horn of Africa nation will become a refuge for members of Osama bin Laden's terror network, much like Afghanistan did in the late 1990s.

US officials cooperated with the secular warlords, hoping to capture three al-Qaeda leaders allegedly protected by the Islamic council, among them three men accused in the deadly 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But the Islamists prevailed, taking the US by surprise and further marginalizing the interim government.

The militia has forbidden movies, television and music. Last week, militiamen in central Somalia fatally shot two people at the screening of a World Cup soccer broadcast banned because it violated the fighters' strict interpretation of Islamic law. They also broke up a wedding because it featured a band, and men and women socializing together.

A recent recruiting video issued by militia members showed foreign militants fighting alongside them, and invited Muslims from around the world to join in their "holy jihad."

On Monday, Ahmed, the top Islamic official, said the tape wasfabricated and blamed it on the US.

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