December 23, 2006

Somalia Militia Seeks Foreign Fighters

Somalia Militia Seeks Foreign Fighters
Islamic militants who want to govern Somalia by the Quran urged foreign Muslims on Saturday to join their war with Ethiopian troops, after four days of heavy fighting in this volatile nation that threatens to escalate into a regional conflict.
"Muslims are brothers and help each other. We have a right to call our brothers and sisters to help us in this holy war," said Sheik Yusuf Indahaadde, national security chairman for the Council of Islamic Courts, which controls much of southern Somalia.
The Islamic group has vowed to drive out troops from neighboring Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation that is giving military support to Somalia's U.N.-backed interim government. Ethiopia denies its troops are fighting, saying it has sent only military trainers.
In Kismayo, a seaport captured from the government by Islamic militiamen in September, people reported seeing several foreign Arab fighters disembarking from ships this week.
Fighting that killed hundreds of people in recent days has intensified worries about a major conflict engulfing the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia has one of the largest armies in the region and its bitter rival, Eritrea, is supporting the Islamic militia.
Instability in the region has allowed Islamic extremists to gain a foothold, U.S. officials have warned while charging that leaders of the Islamic militia in Somalia provide refuge for al-Qaida members.
Ibrahim Hassan Adow, foreign affairs chief for the Islamic council, said the group will not negotiate with the government any more because it is the "puppet of another foreign country." He denounced the United States, saying Washington should be pushing Ethiopia to withdraw its troops.
The interim prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, vowed Saturday that his 2-year-old government would "defend the people it is responsible for and Somali sovereignty." He said the Islamic fighters should return to negotiations that were being mediated by the Arab League.
"They will be responsible for any consequences that may result from rejecting our call," Gedi said.
The Arab League expressed deep concern Saturday over the conflict, calling on both sides, "especially the Islamic courts, to seek dialogue in resolving the dispute." Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, also urged an end to fighting, saying Somalis are suffering from "this irresponsible armed confrontation."
Intense fighting between the Islamic militia and supporters of the interim government broke out Tuesday in several places.
Sporadic gunfire and shelling were heard Friday around Baidoa, the government's only stronghold. Combat there appeared to have tapered off, but four Ethiopian attack helicopters and about 20 tanks were seen headed for the battle zone, witnesses and a government official said.
Thousands of Somalis have fled their homes during fighting set off when Islamic fighters advanced on Baidoa, about 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu, which served as Somalia's national capital until warlords toppled a longtime dictator in 1991 and plunged the country into chaos.
"Special forces who are highly trained in guerrilla warfare are now ready to attack Ethiopians, wherever they are in Somalia," Sheik Ibrahim Shukri Abuu-Zeynab, a spokesman for the Islamic movement, told The Associated Press.
He also said the Islamists late Friday peacefully captured the Ethiopian border town of Tiyeglow, which is believed to be a main entry point for troops from the neighboring nation. There was no immediate confirmation of the claim.
Officials of the interim Somali government claimed more than 600 Islamic fighters had been killed the previous four days. Islamic militiamen said they killed around 400 Ethiopians and government fighters. Neither claim could be independently confirmed.

Associated Press writers Salad Duhul and Mohamed Sheik Nor contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press.

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