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Curfew imposed on tense Baidoa
June 11, 2006
SOMALIA'S transitional government has overnight deployed troops to its temporary seat northwest of the capital a day after clashes between rival forces killed at least seven people and wounded eight, officials said.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Nur Mohamed Dinari said that some 300 troops were brought to Baidoa, about 250km northwest of Mogadishu, overnight to provide security and to help bring down checkpoints over which local militia and pro-government fighters battled on Friday.
"Some 300 military men were brought to dismantle checkpoints which are being set up by a few individuals and gunmen," Mr Dinari said.
"When they accomplish the dismantling of the checkpoints they will immediately hand over to the police in Baidoa," he added.
In addition, the government imposed a 9pm (1600 AEST) to 5am (0000 AEST) curfew in Baidoa, information minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir said in a statement.
"Anyone who violates this order of the curfew shall be sentenced to one to three months imprisonment with a fine of between 1,500,000 Somali shillings ($US1,080) and 3,000,000 shillings ($US2,160)," he said.
But residents said as many as 1,500 troops had arrived in Baidoa, where the largely powerless government has set camp owing to insecurity in the bullet-scarred capital Mogadishu that has been the scene of fierce battles in recent months.
The town was largely peaceful Saturday after the clashes that were sparked when the government decided to help local authorities in Baidoa and five surrounding districts clear illegal roadblocks, where gunmen extort money from civilians, and disarm freelance and clan militias.
Clashes at such checkpoints are common among lawless Somalia's many armed groups, for whom the barricades are a major source of income.
"The whole task of the presence of the force in Baidoa is to bring peace, nothing more, nothing less," Mr Dinari said.
Friday's fighting involved soldiers loyal to transitional president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed Yusuf, coming mainly from his home region of Puntland in the north, and gunmen from a militia controlled by the Raharwein clan, which is dominant around Baidoa, witnesses said.
The presence of Yusuf's troops has heightened tensions in the town, with local militias complaining that fighters from northern Somalia are taking their jobs and income.
On Saturday, the government was meeting to discuss ways of establishing a permanent security force in Baidoa, according to a minister in Yusuf's government who spoke to AFP on conditions of anonymity.
"A meeting is taking place between the president and other government officials," said the minister, who refused to comment further.
The government itself has been wracked by infighting and unable to exert control across vast swathes of the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, which was plunged into chaos when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
The government, which relocated to Somalia from Kenya last year, has had to temporarily set up shop in Baidoa owing to the near-constant bloody battles for the control of the capital.
Nearly 350 people, mainly civilians, have been killed since February in clashes between fighters allied to Islamic courts and a warlord alliance in Mogadishu.