December 28, 2006 in Nation/World

Islamists abandon Somali capital

Salad Duhul Associated Press

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

An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw gunmen taking off their Islamist uniforms and 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.

The Islamic Courts Union seized the capital in June and went on to take much of southern Somalia, often without fighting. They were later joined by foreign militants, including Pakistanis and Arabs.

The movement seemed invincible after capturing the capital, but they are no match for Ethiopia, which has the strongest military in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian forces crossed the border Sunday to reinforce the internationally recognized Somali government, which was bottled up in Baidoa, 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu.

The U.N. Security Council failed for a second day on Wednesday to agree on a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire in Somalia because Qatar insisted the council demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces.

The 14 other council members refused to demand the immediate pullout of Ethiopian and other troops, diplomats said.

On Wednesday, Ethiopian 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 playing Western music, which the militias had banned.

The U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday it was “particularly concerned about reports of civilians, including children, being forcibly recruited to join the fighting.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said he aims to severely damage the courts’ military capabilities and allow both sides to return to peace talks as equals.

Kenneth Menkhaus, professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, said the war will likely be “prolonged, inconclusive, low-intensity and asymmetrical.”

The Red Cross reported 850 people injured at hospitals supported by the relief agency in Mogadishu and Baidoa, but had no figure for fatalities.

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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