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Haggle For A Missile: Somali Weapons Market Booms
MOGADISHU, Somalia, April 7, 2006 -- Militiamen fire machine guns into the sky, while a few meters away, shoppers hardly bat an eyelid as young children jostle for the falling cartridges.
At Mogadishu's Cirtogte market, business goes on as usual -- customers rummage through , AK-47 rifles, pistols, ammunition, combat gear, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles all on sale at a negotiable price.
These days, prices are doubling after the latest bout of fighting, where militia linked to Islamic courts clashed with a new "anti-terrorism" alliance backed by powerful warlords.
Located in the expansive Bakara market, Cirtogte -- which means "sky shooters" in Somali -- derived its name from the steady stream of trigger-happy militiamen who test-fire guns in the air.
"The children pick up the hot falling cartridges and then sell them," pistol trader Abdirizak Ali said as another gun dealer nearby dusted and oiled an RPG. "We are accustomed to the shooting ... Business goes on."
And business is good after last month's fighting killed between 70 and 90 people. The forecast is even better: Islamist militia sources say they expect a new battle at any time.
"We get good profits during such times," a young trader who declined to be named said. "Weapons commandeered from the [anti-terrorism] coalition have flooded the market."
With the Islamist militia holding onto key installations they took in recent clashes, residents now fear a bigger and more lethal round of fighting.
They have been stocking up on food and fortifying their houses in case of another flare-up.
Somalia has been without a functioning central government since warlords ousted strongman Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991, ushering in 15 years of anarchy.
The country is flooded with millions of illegal arms and more are still arriving despite a U.N. arms embargo. Gun traders said they buy supplies from Ethiopia and Yemen.
"It does not mean we want the anarchy to persist ... We are just entrepreneurs," the young trader said sitting at his wooden stall, waiting for customers to buy his dozen or so guns and an RPG hanging from a string.
Many in Somalia suspect the United States has backed the warlord coalition as part of its war against terrorism.
That has given Islamist groups, notably the Islamic courts that have brought order to some parts of Mogadishu by imposing sharia law, another rallying cry against warlords also vying for control of the coastal city.
Somali sources told Reuters in Nairobi this week that several politicians from the lawless country had met with U.S. officials in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in a bid to forestall further clashes.
U.S. Embassy officials did meet with Somali community leaders, spokeswoman Jennifer Barnes said. But she declined to identify them.
The recent fighting in Mogadishu has demonstrated how little control Somalia's fledging interim administration -- the country's 14th attempt at a central government -- has over the nation of 10 million.
Formed in Kenya in late 2004, it moved back to Somalia last year but remains in the provinces, unable to set up in Mogadishu due to insecurity.