10/08/06 (B362) Somalie / Al Jazeera avec AFP – BBC. Les islamistes somaliens s’emparent des villes clefs du Pays (En anglais / info lecteur)

________________________________Al Jazeera
Islamists seize key Somali town

The Islamic militia has seized control of a strategic township near the Ethiopian border from Somalia’s transitional government, further expanding their territory, officials and residents say.

There were no reported casualties in the clash, which saw only a brief exchange of fire around 7am (0400 GMT) on Wednesday.

Islamic militia commander Yusuf Makaraan said his fighters took control of Beledweyne, the capital of Hiraan region 300km north of Mogadishu, after Yusuf Ahmed Hagar, the Ethiopia-backed, government-appointed governor, allegedly fled to Ethiopia.

"We have full control of Beledweyne," Makarran told AFP by telephone.

"The governor fled and we captured one battlewagon – a pickup truck mounted (with) a machine gun – from his fleeing forces."

"People closed their business centres and are very much concerned that likely renewed clashes between Islamists and Yusuf Hagar clan members" might resume, said resident Mumin Derow.

Fear of attack

The growing influence of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS), which controls much of southern Somalia including the capital Mogadishu, has threatened the authority of the transitional government based in Baidoa, about 250km northwest of the capital.

The Islamists have shown interest in controlling other parts of Somalia, but have denied accusations of planning to raid Baidoa, where Ethiopian troops have been deployed to protect the fragile government.

Residents here expressed fear that Ethiopian soldiers, who are stationed on the border, might attack.

"We are afraid that the former governor might lead to intervention by the Ethiopian force," said Mustafa Aw-Abdi.

"Hagar is not in Ethiopia to worship, he is seeking military support."

"If Ethiopia intervenes militarily to bring back Hagar to power, that will renew more violence," said Ahmed Abdullahi, a shop owner.

"I am sure Ethiopians will come to support their man in Beledweyne. But they can’t keep him in power."

Mass resignation

The deployment of the Ethiopians in Baidoa and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi’s refusal to engage Islamists in talks has led to mass resignations of ministers, compelling Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the president, to fire the whole cabinet.

The Islamists have refused to participate in Arab League-mediated peace talks in Khartoum until the Ethiopian soldiers pull out, apparently complicating efforts to restore a functional authority in this impoverished, war-torn African nation.

The brief clashes in Beledweyne, which links southern Somalia to the agriculturally rich central regions, came after Hagar refused to formally hand over control to the Islamists.


___________________________________ BBC

Somalia Islamists take key town

Islamic militia have taken control of the central Somali town of Beletuein.

The strategic town changed hands after fighting erupted in between the town’s previous pro-government rulers and the militia of a local Islamic court.

Tension is high in central Somalia as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that controls much of southern Somalia tries to spread its influence further north.

Earlier, two were injured in Galkayo in a protest led by clerics who say the UIC’s brand of Islam is too militant.


The BBC’s Hassan Barise in Mogadishu says no one was injured in the short battle in the strategically important town of Beletuein, some 300km north of the capital.

The reason for the fighting is believed to have been related to a dispute over the administration’s relationship with Ethiopia, he says.

The administration was appointed by the interim government based in Baidoa, which the local Islamic court accuses of being a puppet of Ethiopia.

The town is now calm and residents applauded the victory of the Islamic court, which is allied to the UIC.

Our reporter says Beletuein is especially important for the Islamists, as they can now move their militias and supplies from south to north without hindrance.
It indicates that the courts are trying to spread their influence throughout the country, he says.


Meanwhile, correspondents say residents in Galkayo, 600km north west of the capital, are divided about whether to support the UIC.

Galkayo borders Puntland, an effectively autonomous region believed to be against the courts.

Hundreds of people carrying placards and shouting anti-UIC slogans took part in the demonstrations before scuffles broke out, Somalia’s Shabelle website reports.
UIC militia are reported to be controlling a main road outside Galkayo.

They have sent representatives into the town to see about setting up an Islamic court there.

In Baidoa, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi is attempting to form a new 31-member cabinet after the previous cabinet was dissolved on Monday.

President Abdullahi Yusuf has given him a week to form a new government.

The two agreed on Monday to put aside their differences, after divisions on the question of possible talks with the Islamists sparked a crisis in the government.

The interim cabinet originally had more than 100 members, not all of whom had been approved by parliament.

Over the past two weeks some 40 ministers quit their posts in protest at the prime minister’s opposition to peace talks with the UIC, and Mr Ghedi narrowly survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The weak interim government remains split about holding talks with the UIC.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The UIC has been credited with success in bringing stability since June to the capital, Mogadishu, for the first time in 15 years.