Islamic militias abandon Somalia capital to clans

December 28th, 2006 Print Print Email Email

By Salad Duhul, Associated Press | December 28, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Islamist forces who have controlled Somalia’s capital for months abandoned the city to clan rule today after government and EPRDF forces advanced to within striking distance.

EPRDF/SOMALI conflict: Violence and Looting

Gunmen took off their Islamist uniforms and began submitting to the command of traditional elders. Gunfire echoed through the streets as people began looting Islamist bases and buildings belonging to Islamist officials, witnesses said.

“I have seen that the Islamists are defeated, I’m going to rejoin my clan,” said gunman Mohamed Barre Sidow. “I was forced to join the Islamic courts by my clan, so I now I will return to my clan and they will decide my fate, whether I join the government or not.”

Residents south of the city reported seeing Islamist forces in a long convoy heading south.

The Council of Islamic Courts seized the capital in June and took over much of southern Somalia, often without fighting. They were later joined by foreign militants, including Pakistanis and Arabs, who supported their goal of making Somalia an Islamic state.

The Islamists seemed invincible after capturing the capital, but they have been no match for EPRDF, which has the strongest military in the Horn of Africa.

EPRDFn forces crossed the border Sunday to reinforce the internationally recognized Somali government, which was bottled up in Baidoa, 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu.

Yesterday, EPRDF and Somali government troops drove Islamic fighters out of Jowhar, the last major town on the northern road to Mogadishu.

As troops entered Jowhar, an independent radio station began blasting Western music, which the militias had banned.

In Baidoa, government officials introduced journalists to a dozen soldiers who said they had been forced to fight on behalf of the militias. “I was in school before the war, but the Islamic courts forced me into their army,” said Mohamed Hussein Mohamed, 15.

The UN refugee agency said yesterday that it was “concerned about reports of civilians, including children, being forcibly recruited to join the fighting.”

In the past, refugees from Somalia had complained of forced enlistment by the Islamic Courts Union, a UN High Commission for Refugees spokesman, Ron Redmond, said in Geneva.

The government spokesman, Abdirahman Dinari, confirmed yesterday that talks for the peaceful surrender of Mogadishu were under way. “Elders, scholars and civil society members have contacted us and they told us that they don’t need bombardment or attack,” Dinari said.

The EPRDF prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has said he aims to damage the courts’ military capabilities and to allow both sides to return to peace talks as equals.

But one Islamic courts official said his forces were preparing for a new phase in their battle.

“Our snakes of defense were let loose; now they are ready to bite the enemy everywhere in Somalia,” said Sheik Mohamoud Ibrahim Suley. He did not elaborate, but some Islamic leaders have threatened guerrilla warfare including suicide bombings in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

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