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Somali Islamists seize key port, claim new government defections
Cat : Sustainable development
Date : 2006-08-18 14:46:48                      Reader : 336
We hope Bill Gates to have a look there to stop poverty and illness among women as priority and children.
 
Associated France Press 18/8/2006
 
Somali Islamists seize key port, claim new government defections
 
 
Wed Aug 16, 2:32 PM ET
 
MOGADISHU (AFP) - Islamist courts controlling much of southern Somalia seized a key central port and said at least 100 government troops had defected to their side, in new blows to the weak administration.
 
 Hundreds of fighters loyal to the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS) faced no resistance as they swept into the port of Hobyo on machine gun-mounted pick-ups known as "battlewagons" or "technicals," officials and residents said.
 
"We have extended our reach to Hobyo," a senior SICS official said in Mogadishu, from where the Islamists have expanded their territory since taking it from warlords in June after months of fierce fighting.
 
"We did not capture it, but we reached the people of Hobyo to bring them our message of peace," the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
 
"The courts were welcomed by the people of Hobyo. This is a great gift from the mighty Allah, we thank him," a second senior Islamist official said.
 
Telephone communication is impossible to Hobyo, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) north of Mogadishu, but residents reached by radio confirmed the Islamists had entered the town after several days of talks with elders.
 
"The courts are now in control of Hobyo. They arrived this morning after staying overnight in nearby villages," resident Farah Dullane told AFP. "Their presence is a reality in our town."
 
The move north follows the weekend seizure by the Islamists of the port of Haradere, further south, from where bands of pirates had been operating, attacking dozens of ships off the Somali coast in the past year.
 
Earlier Wednesday, Islamist officials said around 100 government troops, along with seven battlewagons, crossed into their territory overnight from near the temporary government seat of Baidoa.
 
"The militiamen communicated with Al-bayan Islamic court in Mogadishu and said they wanted to join our holy effort to bring peace to the Somali people," said court chairman Mohamed Ali Bilal.
 
"They are ideologically uncomfortable with the government and also claim to have been mistreated," he told AFP.
 
"I pray Allah will give his courage to the remaining soldiers in Baidoa to see the true realities of Somalia, I hope they will all join us," Bilal said.
 
Government officials in Baidoa, about 250 kilometers west of the capital, confirmed that a group of disgruntled soldiers had deserted but put their number at fewer than 50.
 
The defections come as tensions rise between the internationally backed but largely powerless government and the Islamists, who are rapidly expanding their territory.
 
The rise of the Islamists threatens the already limited authority of the government, which many had hoped could end 16 years of anarchy in the lawless Horn of Africa nation of some 10 million.
 
Planned Arab League-mediated talks this week in Sudan to calm the situation were delayed again on Tuesday as the Islamists renewed demands for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops allegedly in Somalia to protect the government.
 
But both the Somali government and Addis Ababa have denied that Ethiopian soldiers are in Somalia despite numerous witness accounts of uniformed troops from Ethiopia deploying in and around Baidoa.
 
Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 ouster of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre plunged the country into chaos with rival warlords competing for territory.
 
The Islamists have moved to fill the power vaccuum, raising concerns of a Taliban-style takeover of Somalia and challenging the Baidoa-based government, the latest of 14 internationally backed attempts to restore stability.
 
As the courts consolidate their power, they have also introduced increasingly strict Sharia law, banning makeshift cinemas and other facilities deemed un-Islamic.

 
 
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