http://www.iht.com/articles/reuters/2008/12/28/africa/OUKWD-UK-SOMALIA-CONFLICT.php


Moderate Islamists seize two central Somali towns 

ReutersPublished: December 28, 2008

By Abdi Sheikh

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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