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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Warlords advance towards Somali capital-residents

NAIROBI, June 8 (Reuters) - Warlords defeated by Islamist militia in the battle for Mogadishu are advancing back towards the Somali capital from their stronghold of Jowhar, residents said on Thursday.

The residents, reached by telephone from Nairobi, told Reuters the Islamist militia, who took Mogadishu on Monday and had threatened Jowhar, were pulling back towards the town of Balad, on the road to the capital. They said the warlords had moved into the positions south of Jowhar previously occupied by Islamist militia loyal to Mogadishu sharia courts. "The (warlord) coalition has moved forward to Qalimoy, where the Islamic courts militia, were yesterday. While the Islamic militia have moved back and are now in Gololey, which is 20 km (12 miles) from Balad," said local farmer Abdi Warsame.

"I think they moved back because their leaders are busy meeting in Mogadishu and they want to tighten their defences there."

The warlords have vowed to win back the capital.

Earlier, Islamic courts chairman Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said his forces would not push into Jowhar unless they came under attack. "We have no plans to attack them in Jowhar. We are monitoring the coalition militia movements. If they attack us, we will of course answer them," Ahmed said.

"If their leaders have not learnt the lesson and continue with their aggression then we will have no option but to attack them."

Scores of residents had fled the town fearing an Islamist offensive. But Warsame said Jowhar was calm on Thursday and residents were no longer fleeing.

The Islamic militia won control of the Somali capital on Monday from a self-styled anti-terrorism warlord coalition, widely believed to be backed by Washington, after fierce fighting that had killed 350 people since February.

Fighters loyal to Jowhar warlord Mohamed Dheere have been reinforced by allies defeated in Mogadishu and Balad, which fell on Sunday.


The Islamist victory dislodged warlords from Mogadishu for the first time since they ousted military ruler Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, but clan fighters vowed to reclaim lost ground.

Ali Nur, a warlord fighter, said his Sa'ad clan of slain warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed was boosting defences in its districts of Mogadishu. A disastrous attempt by U.S. troops to capture Aideed in 1993 was depicted in the film "Black Hawk Down".

"Preparations are still going on, some militias are cutting trees to clear paths" Nur said. "We have put our militia behind defence lines. Once our preparations are complete a decision will be made on whether to attack them."

Nur said his clan was protesting in the streets against the Islamist seizure of their stronghold, the Kilometre Four area.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday the Bush administration would "reserve judgment" about the Islamist victory in Mogadishu.

Officials said policy was still being formulated towards Somalia but there was a move towards dealing with the Islamic militia.

The United States has long viewed Somalia as a haven for terrorists seeking to use the Horn of Africa country as a springboard for attacks.

But some analysts believe the defeat of the warlords, who ran their fiefdoms in Mogadishu with private armies for 15 years and are despised by much of the population, could create an opening for peace in the anarchic country.

Washington, which has shied away from direct involvement in Somalia since a humiliating 1994 exit of U.S. and U.N. troops, has refused to discuss reports it is funnelling $100,000 a month to warlords, but says it will support anyone fighting terrorism.
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