[dehai-news] (Reuters) Moderate Islamists seize two central Somali towns


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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Sun Dec 28 2008 - 16:22:26 EST


 Moderate Islamists seize two central Somali towns Sun 28 Dec 2008, 19:32
GMT

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A moderate Islamist group captured two towns in
central Somalia on Sunday from al Shabaab, a hardline militia on the U.S.
list of terrorist groups, residents and Islamists said.

The Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, a government-allied Sunni Islamist group, vowed on
Saturday to seize towns controlled by al Shabaab after retaking Gurael, a
trading town north of the capital Mogadishu.
 Most of the south and centre of Somalia except Mogadishu and Baidoa is
controlled by various Islamist factions opposed to the Western-backed
transitional government and to its Ethiopian military allies.

Somalia has been without an effective central government for 17 years, and
the Ethiopian troops that have been propping up a feeble transitional
government since 2006 are due to withdraw within days.

But fears that this will create fresh anarchy are countered by some
diplomats who say the withdrawal and the current turmoil within the
administration could be a chance to bring Islamists into peace talks and
create a broader-based government.

President Abdullahi Yusuf, who has been accused by Western nations and
regional leaders of being an obstacle to a peace, is widely expected to
announce his resignation on Monday.

"WAR ON AL SHABAAB"

A two-year Islamist insurgency has killed more than 10,000 civilians,
uprooted 1 million people and caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in
the world.

The Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca have declared war on al Shabaab, accusing them of
killing religious leaders and desecrating graves, acts that they say are
against Islamic teachings.

"We have swept al Shabaab from Gelinsoor and most of Dusamareeb is under our
control," Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, spokesman for Ahlu Sunna
Waljamaca, told Reuters.

"We are determined to oust them from the entire country."

Residents said nine people were killed in Gelinsoor, in central Somalia, and
12 died in Dusamareeb, in the same region.

"Fierce fighting between the Sunni group and al Shabaab killed nine people
including an old man hit by a stray bullet in Gelinsoor on Sunday," resident
Ahmed Hassan told Reuters.

"The two groups exchanged machinegun fire and rocket-propelled grenades for
eight hours. Most of the residents have fled into the woods, except for a
few like me who couldn't get out of the house," Dusamareeb resident Halima
Osman said.

Residents in Baidoa say Yusuf's relatives, the families of some of his
presidential guards and legislators allied to the president have fled to
Puntland, a semi-autonomous enclave north of Somalia, fearing they may be
targeted after he resigns.

"Two flights came and 18 legislators closely related to President Yusuf flew
to Puntland today," Hassan Abukar, a worker at Baidoa airport, told Reuters.

A worker at Mogadishu's airport said about 130 women and children from the
presidential palace had flown to Puntland.

Yusuf's spokesman and the speaker of parliament declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Guled and Ibrahim Mohamed in Mogadishu,
Mohamed Ahmed in Baidoa; Writing by Wangui Kanina; Editing by David Clarke
and Kevin Liffey)

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