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Mogadishu fractures along clan lines

 

The lawless Somali capital fractured along clan lines on Tuesday as members of a United States-backed warlord alliance sought refuge with traditional elders and vowed to resist Islamist control.

A day after Mogadishu's 11 Islamic courts claimed victory over the warlords in four months of fierce fighting and said they would impose Sharia law, surrender talks were at a stalemate and the city appeared deeply divided.

Although there was no fighting, traditional clan elders in northern Mogadishu voiced support for the warlord alliance and warned the Islamists to stay clear of their territory.

Resistance was being led by the Abgal sub-clan, a faction of the larger Hawiye tribe -- which comprises most people living in Mogadishu -- which runs the northern part of the city and earlier organised a mass protest against the Islamic courts.

"We want to establish an Abgal sub-clan defence line, politically and militarily," said Hussein Sheikh Ahmed, an influential elder who participated in failed talks for warlords to hand over checkpoints, weapons and materiel to the Islamists.

He said the Abgal would not accept the imposition of Sharia law in its territory and demanded that the Islamists stop any move to take over the area.

"Advances into Abgal territory should be halted immediately," he said, noting that three warlords from the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) were currently the elders' guests, and therefore under their protection.

"We are not discussing whether they are members of the ARPCT or not. We are treating them as members of the Abgal subclan," Ahmed said.

Warlords Musa Sudi Yalahow, Omar Muhamoud Finnish and Bashir Raghe Shirar, who were holed up in northern Mogadishu, insisted their alliance was alive and well despite its apparent military defeat.

"I am still a member of ARPCT, the alliance still exists and there are no plans to disband it," Shirar told Agence France-Presse.

He repeated long-standing alliance charges that the Islamists were harboring extremists, including al-Qaeda members.

"The Joint Islamic Courts union is not a religious organisation but a political one that wants to seize power and land," he said.

"The ARPCT will continue to pursue its mandate."

The alliance was created in February with US support in a bid to curb the growing influence the Islamic courts, hunt down the extremists they are accused of harboring and disrupt possible plans for terrorist attacks.

Immediately after its formation, the ARPCT began battling the Islamists, which declared a holy war against the warlords. At least 347 people were killed and more than 1 500 wounded in four months of clashes that followed.

Washington has never publicly confirmed or denied its support for the alliance but US officials told Agence France-Presse they had given the warlords money and intelligence help to rein in "creeping Talibanisation" in Somalia.

The Horn of Africa nation was plunged into anarchy with the 1991 ouster of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre and analysts have long warned it could become a hotbed for radical Islam along the lines of Afghanistan. -

Somalia's Islamic leaders transform themselves from neighborhood watch to capital's rulers

The militia that began as a band of vigilantes fighting petty crime, drunkenness and pornography is now Somalia's most powerful military force.

Perhaps most impressively, the Islamic extremists who led the Islamic Courts Union were able to form an alliance that transcended clan -- which has so far divided the country. The extremists claimed Monday to have taken control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Now some Mogadishu residents have high hopes that the Islamic radicals will bring peace and unity.

''The Islamic courts' victory was a step forward to a comprehensive peace deal in the capital. I hope that the airport and seaport will be opened. I also hopethatall civil society groups will join the process of rebuilding the city,'' Somali economist Abdinasir Ahmed said.

Somalia's last central government collapsed in 1991 when clan-based rebels drove out dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and rival warlords turned on each other. Once the fighting stopped and a status quo developed, businessmen, clan elders and civic leaders raised money to finance makeshift courts, based on traditional Somali and Islamic law, since there was no government to provide justice.

For years, the courts were primarily clan affairs and reflected the traditional, peace-loving Sufi form of Islam practiced by most Somalis. But in 2004, radical Islamic clerics led by Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys began to take control of the courts and used fines to create militias to enforce the court's rulings.

Aweys had co-founded the Islamic group al-Itihaad al-Islamiya in the early 1990s. The United States alleges that during this time he made contact with Osama bin Laden, then living inSudan. Aweys does not deny past contacts with bin Laden, but says he has no links now with bin Laden or al-Qaida.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said recently that three al-Qaida leaders indicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania are being sheltered by Islamic leaders in Mogadishu. The same al-Qaida cell is believed responsible for the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya that killed 15 people and a simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.

Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to stop al-Itihaad.

Al-Itihaad's armed wing was destroyed, but the group's founders continued to lead mosques and teach in religious schools.

In an interview with The Associated Press in October, Aweys said al-Itihaad does not exist anymore and he now leads a political party, the Somali Salvation and Unity Council, which is closely tied to the courts.

The first sign that the courts had abroader agenda came in the summer of 2005, when the militias began attacking drug dealers, raiding bars and destroying video halls that showed risque films.

Aweys told the AP then that he and his followers would not rest until they had established an Islamic government in Somalia. He said he opposed efforts to install a Western-style democracy as proposed by the United Nations and called for the international community to leave Somalis alone to choose their own future.

Aweys said he would wage holy war on any foreign forces that enter Somalia, including peacekeepers proposed by the African Union, and that he plans to have an important role in the country's future.

Omar Jamal, an expatriate Somali who is director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, said it will take time for the militants to consolidate their power in Mogadishu, and that the struggle to control the country will not end there.

Jamal called on the international community to do everythingpossible to support the U.N.-backed government currently in Baidoa, 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, to keep the Islamic radicals from expanding their power base any farther.

''If the Islamic leaders want, they could kick the government out of Baidoa very easily,'' Jamal said. ''Not only on military grounds, but also on political grounds, the government is so weak, the Islamic extremists are far ahead in gaining the hearts and minds of the people.'' Both the interim president and prime minister have rejected suggestions Somalia needs an Islamic republic.

''This war will not stop in Mogadishu,'' Jamal said.

UN Secretary General calls for calm in Somalia

Johannesburg (AND) The United Nation General Secretary Kofi Annan has urged all parties involved in the Mogadishu conflict to go back to the negotiation table.

Hundreds of people have been reportedly killed and hundreds more wounded when Islamist militias, linked to Alqaeda network, forcefully took over Somalia's capital of Mogadishu from the US allied transitional government yesterday.

In written a statement the Secretary-General Spokesperson said, "The Secretary-General continues to be concerned about the violence in Mogadishu and its environs.

"He stresses that all parties to the conflict should resolve their differences and address outstanding issues in accordance with the Transitional Federal Charter of Somalia," he said.

Meanwhile, the US has warned that the country will become a safe haven for the Alqaeda terrorists.

Reports from Somalia say most American allied warlords who were in the Somali transitional government have left the country to unknown destination.


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