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U.N. officials meet Islamic militia in Somalia

U.N.  officials met Monday with the Islamic militia that runs Somalia’s capital, the first formal contact since the militants’ seizure of Mogadishu and much of the south. A militia official called on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian troops.
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.N. security officials met Monday with the Islamic militia that runs Somalia’s capital, the first formal contact since the militants’ seizure of Mogadishu and much of the south.

The militia’s leader said a weekend message from Osama bin Laden — portraying Somalia as a battleground in a global war on the United States — showed the al-Qaida leader sympathized with the Somali militia and its supporters.

Another militia official, the head of its executive council, called on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian troops believed to have crossed the border.

A two-member U.N. security team visited Mogadishu’s airport and seaport to assess conditions for a possible increase in humanitarian operations.

The U.N. officials held talks with leaders of the Islamic militia. Details of that meeting were not immediately available, said Abdi Rahiin Adow, an aide to the head of the militia’s consultative council.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe declined to comment on the team’s findings, or whether it will recommend that U.N. humanitarian agencies return to Somalia.

“We’ll have to see what they recommend in terms of what kind of access they had and what kind of guarantees they’re able to get,” she said.

Militia leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, whom the U.S. has accused of links to al-Qaida, said Sunday that bin Laden cannot tell Somalis what they should do.

But he also said the fugitive al-Qaida leader’s latest message showed no ill will toward the Islamic militia.

“No one can dictate (to) us what we are to do,” he said in a radio address. “Osama’s message would not harm the Somali people who stood up to restore law and order in their country and who are committed to defend their religion and dignity.”

Washington has accused the Islamic group of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Hard-liner replaces moderate
The hard-line Aweys replaced the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who charged Sunday that Ethiopians had been illegally entering Somalia since June.

“They are in some parts of our territory but, God willing, they will regret,” Aweys, now head of the militia’s executive council, told journalists in the capital.

Abdulrahim Issa Adow, secretary to Aweys, said the group has put its fighters on alert but they have not sent combatants to attack Ethiopian troops, who are believed to be in areas outside the militia’s control.

Islamic fundamentalists have supported separatist groups in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has supported the Somali Islamists’ rivals with guns and money to keep them from taking power.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since the warlords turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

Somalian president seeks Ethiopian support
The president of Somalia’s largely powerless, U.N.-backed secular interim government, Abdullahi Yusuf, is allied with Ethiopia and has asked for its support.

Bin Laden lashed out at Yusuf, calling him a “traitor” and a “renegade.”

The al-Qaida leader said in the audio message posted Saturday on the Internet that leaders of any country, including Islamic ones, should not become involved in Somalia.

Several residents in the border town of Beled-Hawo said about 100 troops from Ethiopia had crossed into their town Saturday. Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic militia’s executive council, said Ethiopian troops had also in recent weeks entered Somalia’s southwestern region of Gedo and the central region of Hiraan.

Ethiopia has not responded to the allegations.

Ismail Hurreh, one of Somalia’s several deputy prime ministers, told The Associated Press that bin Laden has been involved in Somalia since 1992, taking advantage of the country’s lawlessness and anarchy to form terrorist cells.

“The current tape indicates his new objective in Somalia,” Hurreh said. “The government will not accept Somalia becoming another Afghanistan.”