Somali warlord hands over weapons, forces to army

MOGADISHU (AP) — Somalia’s fledgling government received a boost Saturday when the last major warlord turned over his weapons and militia, but it faced a renewed threat from Islamists, who took credit for a string of attacks and promised to continue fighting until the government agrees to talks.

A leader in Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts said his group was responsible for a series of recent attacks, including a mortar attack on the presidential palace late Friday and an ambush on an Ethiopian convoy early Saturday.

“This is a new uprising by the Somali people,” said Ahmed Qare, deputy chairman of the council.

“The only solution can be reconciliation and talks between the transitional federal government and the Islamic courts.”

The internationally recognised government — with key military backing from Ethiopia — had managed to drive the Islamic movement that had challenged it out of Mogadishu and much of the rest of southern Somalia. But Islamic leaders have repeatedly threatened a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia to support the government.

The United States and the European Union have called on the government to hold broad-based peace talks to promote reconciliation, but so far only clan leaders and warlords have been involved and religious leaders have been excluded.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991. The transitional federal government is the 14th attempt to restore law and order since warlords divided the country into warring fiefdoms.

On Saturday, one of the most feared warlords in Somalia, Mohammad Dheere, gave the government army chief 23 trucks mounted with heavy weapons and ordered 220 of his fighters to report for retraining at government camps.

The handover took place during a ceremony in Dheere’s stronghold of Jowhar, 90 kilometres north of Mogadishu, said Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman.

Unidentified gunmen fired light machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades at an Ethiopian convoy Saturday morning, but missed.

The Ethiopian troops responded with heavy weapons, killing a man and a woman on the side of the road, said Hawa Malin, a resident who witnessed the ambush. Two other people died on the way to the hospital, medical officials said.

“The Ethiopians shot me,” said Ali Kheyre Mumin, one of three people who were wounded. “They shot at me and the others indiscriminately … they shot everybody who was moving around.”

Late Friday, attackers fired three mortars into the presidential compound and then engaged guards in a 30-minute fire fight, residents living nearby said.

Ethiopian and government troops riding tanks and heavily armed trucks rolled out of the compound and immediately sealed off the area. There were no reports of casualties.

The government has invited African peacekeepers to help provide security in Somalia, but they are unlikely to come if fighting continues. African Union officials approved an 8,000-peacekeeper mission on Friday.

In Kampala, Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni named the commanders for the two battalions he has committed to a Somali peacekeeping mission, but no other nations have volunteered any other troops.

Meanwhile, Hayi Barqadle, a clan leader in the Juba Valley in southern Somalia reported on Saturday that 14 people have died and hundreds of animals have been infected with a virus that resembles Rift Valley Fever.

The virus is transmitted from livestock to humans by mosquitoes or raw animal products, but not between humans.

Patients who contract the virus usually experience fever, weakness, joint pain and dizziness. About 1 per cent of cases are fatal.

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