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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Gedi: Somalia troops prepared for war

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Somalia's troops are ready for an imminent and inevitable war with the Islamic militia that has taken over much of the country and surrounded the internationally backed government, the country's prime minister said.

Somali Prime Minister Ali Gedi told The Associated Press he believed the most radical leaders within the Islamic movement were in control and would not take peace talks seriously. The Islamic movement has overrun much of Somalia, including the capital, in recent months, increasingly sidelining the weak government and vowing to bring Islamic law to the whole country.

The radicals within the movement "are the decision makers now," Gedi said in the interview late Monday. "Those who believe that the situation in Somalia will be solved through dialogue and talks are wrong."

But he said his government will continue to take part in all peace efforts while preparing to defend itself against attacks by the Council of Islamic Courts, as the movement that has taken over most of southern Somalia is known.

"We have already mobilized our forces, we have trained a few thousand troops, they are ready," Gedi said during a visit to Ethiopia's capital. Ethiopia has backed Gedi's government, angering the Islamic movement which sees it as interference from Somalia's traditional rival.

Somali's rainy season is coming to an end and roads will be passable again for military vehicles in the next two weeks, he added.

The United States has said the Islamic movement has links to al-Qaida, an accusation Islamic leaders have repeatedly denied.

Gedi said the Islamic forces included more than 3,000 foreign fighters, echoing similar statements made by a U.N. panel investigating violations of an arms embargo that has been in place since 1992, when the last effective central government in Somalia collapsed.

Gedi's government is the 14th attempt to restore the rule of law in Somalia. But his parliament and Cabinet, made up of former warlords and civic leaders, has struggled to expand out of Baidoa, a key town 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu.

From within this power vacuum, a disparate group of Islamic leaders have banded together to create the Council of Islamic Courts, driving out warlords and installing clerical rule in the areas it now controls.

The militia declared itself in control of the southern town of Dinsor on Saturday, a seizure that effectively surrounds the weak, transitional government in its fortified base in Baidoa.

The international community has sponsored several rounds of peace talks to bring Gedi's government and the courts together. Gedi pointed out that after each round of talks, the Islamic courts returned to Mogadishu and dispatched troops to capture additional territory, despite promises to stop their expansion.

Ethiopia, a largely Christian country that fears the possible rise of Islamic fundamentalism on its borders, has acknowledged sending military advisers to Baidoa and has trained Somali troops to protect the government.

Gedi said several thousand Somali troops recently trained and equipped in Ethiopia had arrived and would able to defend Baidoa. The government has so far intentionally avoided any direct confrontation with the Islamic courts.

A confidential U.N. report recently obtained by The Associated Press said there were up to 8,000 Ethiopian troops in the country supporting the government. Ethiopia's parliament has authorized military action if attacked by the Islamic movement, which has declared holy war on Ethiopia over its troop incursions.

The U.N. report said Ethiopia's regional rival, Eritrea, had 2,000 troops in the country backing the Islamic movement, raising the specter of Eritrea and Ethiopia fighting a proxy war in Somalia.

On Friday, the United States introduced a U.N. resolution to partially lift the arms embargo on Somalia to allow for regional peacekeepers.

U.S. officials say that by providing the government with peacekeepers, the Islamic courts will have a greater incentive to pursue peace talks, rather than a military solution.

Gedi said his government needs international support in order to survive against what he calls the terrorist forces within the Islamic courts. He said the draft resolution should allow any country to provide troops to protect his government.

He said recent suicide bombings in Baidoa were contrary to Somali culture and proof that foreign fighters had come to Somalia.

"Suicide bombings was transferred to Somalia from elsewhere," Gedi said. "It will not stop in Somalia, it will spread out."

The United States has issued a travel advisory for Somalia's neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia, warning that extremists in Somalia could launch suicide attacks in those countries.
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