MOGADISHU, Somalia - Ethiopian-backed government forces captured the last remaining stronghold of the Islamic movement in southern Somalia, the Somalian defense minister said yesterday, hours after warlords met with the president and promised to enlist their militiamen in the army.
The southern town of Ras Kamboni fell after five days of heavy fighting, the defense minister, Col. Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire, told the Associated Press. He said that government troops backed by Ethiopian forces and MiG fighter jets had chased fleeing Islamic fighters into nearby forests and that the fighting would continue. He gave no casualty figures.
Ras Kamboni is in a rugged coastal area a few miles from the Kenyan border. It is not far from the site of a U.S. air strike Monday that targeted suspected al-Qaeda forces - the first U.S. offensive in Somalia since 18 American soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in 1993.
The report of its fall came after Somalia's warlords met with President Abdullahi Yusef Ahmed in the capital of Mogadishu and pledged to disarm their militias, a major step toward bringing calm to this city after years of chaos.
The meeting sought to establish enough security in the capital so international peacekeepers could deploy and protect the government until it can establish an effective police force and army.
Outside the peace talks, a fight over where to park an armored car killed at least six people and wounded 10. Clan gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade and briefly exchanged gunfire with government troops during the fight.
Nevertheless, government officials said the meeting between Abdullahi and three top warlords was successful. "The warlords and the government have agreed to collaborate for the restoration of peace in Somalia," said Abdirahman Dinari, a government spokesman.
One of Somalia's most powerful warlords, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, told the AP after the meeting that the clans were "fed up" with guns and ready to cooperate.
But another warlord issued a warning to the government.
"If the government is ready to reconcile its people and chooses the right leadership, I hope there is no need to revolt against it," said Muse Sudi Yalahow, whose fighters control northern Mogadishu. "If they fail and lose the confidence of the people, I think they would be called new warlords."
The government was able to enter Mogadishu only after Ethiopian troops routed an Islamic movement that had controlled most of southern Somalia for six months. Now it must deal with clan divisions that have spoiled 13 attempts to form an effective government since the last one collapsed in 1991.
There are believed to be about 20,000 militiamen in Somalia, and the country is awash in guns. Other obstacles include remnants of the Islamic movement - some are believed to be hiding in Mogadishu - and resentment among some Somalis of Ethiopia's intervention in the war.
Since Tuesday, there have been several attacks on government forces and their Ethiopian allies, and five people have been killed, witnesses said. In addition, assailants threw a grenade into a Mogadishu hotel Thursday, killing a government soldier, said lawmaker Jini Boqor. The hotel is used by Somalia's police chief.
A Darfur rebel group denied yesterday that it agreed to a cease-fire with the Sudanese government during a meeting this week with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The cease-fire was
"probably made for public consumption, as we have not been officially consulted in that regard," said Abdullahi el-Tom, a leader
of the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group.
Richardson, who was in Sudan on a mediation mission this week, issued
a statement Wednesday with President Omar al-Bashir saying both sides in the Darfur conflict had agreed
to a 60-day cessation of hostilities while they work toward lasting peace.
Richardson insisted yesterday that the Sudanese president and rebel leaders "made
a clear commitment to a 60-day cease-fire."
The Justice and Equality Movement said that its delegates met with Richardson for 30 minutes and that that was too brief
to reach a truce.
- Associated Press