December 28, 2006

Government forces control Mogadishu

By Guled Mohamed, Reuters
December 28, 2006

MOGADISHU, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Militias allied to the Somali government captured several key buildings including the former presidential palace in Mogadishu on Thursday, a spokesman for the Somali National Alliance faction said. "We have taken over Villa Somalia," alliance spokesman Abukar Osman Sheikh told Reuters. "Now the Islamists have left Mogadishu, we rightfully took over all the places we used to control including the presidential palace."

Earlier, an interim government spokesman said the Islamists had fled to the southern port city of Kismayu and the administration now controlled 95 percent of the Horn of Africa country.

"Our forces already effectively control Mogadishu because we have taken over the two control points on the main roads outside the city," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told Reuters. "Within two to three hours we will capture the whole city."

Later he told Al Jazeera television the government had declared a state of emergency "to control security and stability". The SICC chairman said his side's hasty withdrawal was a tactical move in a war that began last week against Ethiopian troops defending Somalia's weak, Western-backed government.

A joint force of Ethiopian armour and government fighters has pushed to within a few kilometres of the capital, routing Islamist defence lines before them.

The SICC had brought a semblance of stability to Mogadishu by imposing sharia law. Islamists and residents said order in the city had collapsed with their departure.

"We have withdrawn all the leaders and members who worked in the capital," Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told Al Jazeera. "Mogadishu is now in chaos."

Pro-government militias who once held sway in the capital said they had captured several key buildings early on Thursday, including the former presidential palace.

Witnesses reported looting late on Wednesday and the sound of gunfire in a sign that one of the world's most dangerous cities may be sliding back to the rule of the gun.

"Uncertainty hangs in the air," said Mogadishu resident Muktar Abdi


Ahmed said the Islamists were united and determined to push out Ethiopian forces, but retreated to avoid more bloodshed.

By fleeing, the Islamists appeared to have averted the risk of becoming embroiled in the fierce street fighting that forced the U.S. military from Mogadishu more than a decade ago in a humiliating episode captured in the film "Black Hawk Down".

"We will not negotiate with Ethiopia while its forces are inside Somalia," Ahmed said, blaming Addis Ababa for the "fighting and chaos" in the capital.

Dinari said President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi remained in the government's south-central base Baidoa and would move to Mogadishu at the earliest opportunity.

The government has long viewed Mogadishu as too dangerous to move to, but its return is a key step in achieving greater legitimacy as the 14th attempt to restore central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.

The government maintained an amnesty offer to all Islamist fighters who laid down their arms, Dinari said, adding that the Islamists had opened their weapon stores before fleeing Mogadishu. "They want to create chaos," he said.

More than a week of mortar and rocket duels between the Islamists and the Ethiopian-backed government spiralled into open war that threatens to engulf the entire Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia says the Islamists are supported by Al Qaeda and its arch foe Eritrea, and says it has taken foreign prisoners.

Ethiopia has swept aside Islamist fighters driven by religious fervour but lacking its fighter jets and long experience as one of Africa's most effective armies.

The SICC has depicted the conflict with Christian-led Ethiopia as a holy war against "crusaders", tapping into decades of rivalry between the two neighbours.

The U.N. Security Council failed for a second day to agree to call for a quick end to the war after Qatar -- the sole Arab member of the Council -- again insisted it also urge Ethiopian troops to leave.

State of Emergency
BAIDOA - The Ethiopia-backed Somali government on Thursday declared a state of emergency in the country, a spokesperson said.

"The government's national security committee has declared a state of emergency in Somalia," government spokesperson Abdirahman Dinari said.

"Under this state, the government will ensure that peace is restored in the country, especially Mogadishu and everybody is disarmed," he said.

Residents said the Ethiopia-backed government forces jad captured the town of Afgoye 20km west of Mogadishu, effectively surrounding the Islamist-held city.

Dinari appealed for calm in Mogadishu, saying pro-government forces will enter into the city in the "coming hours."

Gunfire and looting meanwhile was reported north of Mogadishu.

"We have been told that looting and gunfire has broken out in northern Mogadishu," an aid official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
BBC News

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