Thu, Jul 13, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Somalian resistance outgunned

RELENTLESS FORCE The Islamic Court Militia shelled hundreds of its adversaries into submission on Tuesday, showing its determination to tighten its grip on the country

AP , UNITED NATIONSAND MOGADISHU

An Islamic Court Militia member walks past a truck mounted with an anti-aircraft gun which was captured from the fighters of warlord Abdi Awale Qaybdiid in Mogadishu on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Somalia's Islamic militia forced hundreds of fighters who were resisting the group's strict Koranic rule to surrender after some of the most ferocious fighting in months in this war-weary capital.

Fighting since Sunday killed more than 70 people and wounded 150, and the death toll was expected to rise as severely wounded victims streamed into hospitals. The bloodshed on Tuesday was the latest sign that the increasingly radical militia won't tolerate opposition to its tightening grip on power.

"They were holed up inside buildings and we were pounding them with heavy artillery and mortars from every corner," said Abdi Shakur, a member of the Islamic militia that controls nearly all of southern Somalia. "They had no option but to surrender."

As in past fighting, many of the victims were noncombatants caught by stray shells. Hawa Mohamed said a mortar shell killed her 85-year-old grandmother, and the roadblocks erected during the battles prevented the family from burying her.

"We learned what is war and what is peace," Mohamed said on Tuesday.

This volatile nation in the Horn of Africa has been a particular concern to the US, which has long-standing fears that Somalia will become a refuge for members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, much like Afghanistan did in the late 1990s.

The Islamic militia wrested Mogadishu from a US-backed secular alliance of warlords last month, bringing weeks of relative calm to a city that has seen little more than chaos since the last effective central government was toppled in 1991.

One secular warlord, Abdi Awale Qaybdiid, had refused to disarm, sparking the latest offensive against nearly 500 soldiers who remained loyal to him. Mortar shells and gunfire shook the city for two days, sending residents into homes and shops or fleeing Mogadishu altogether.

"We will not allow other militiamen in Mogadishu to remain armed," Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a top Islamic official, said on Tuesday.

Mogadishu resident Khadija Osman Ali welcomed Tuesday's surrender.

"We need peace and stability," she said.

The city was quiet after the surrender and members of the Islamic militia were going house to house searching for any weapons that Qaybdiid's fighters might have hidden.

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

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

The Islamic fighters prevailed, taking the US by surprise and further marginalizing the country's interim government. The interim body was established with the help of the UN, but is powerless outside its base in Baidoa.

Relations were deteriorating between the Islamic fighters and the interim government, which said it would not talk with the militia's radical leader when the two sides meet Saturday in Sudan to negotiate a full peace accord.

The UN special representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, told the Security Council in New York this week that the rise of "hard-liners" is threatening the peace process.

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