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Residents Flee Fighting In Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia June 28, 2006 – Hundreds of Somalis fled their homes Wednesday after an Islamic militia that controls much of southern Somalia clashed with gunmen from an opposing clan at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital.
The Islamic militia battled gunmen Tuesday who had been extorting money from drivers just outside Mogadishu, killing six people - including three civilians and three gunmen from a secular clan. By Wednesday, the clan had regrouped and deployed hundreds of fighters to the southern part of the city, raising fears of fresh fighting.
``We have left our house because we are afraid to be trapped between the opposing militias,'' said Sahra Yusuf, a mother of six.
Fighters loyal to Habar Gidir clan leader Abdi Hassan Awale, a former police chief, were massed just 500 yards from Islamist fighters, said Hassan Fidow, whose restaurant is nearby.
Abdi-rahin Adow, the secretary of the Islamic militia, said Mogadishu was under the militia's control. He declined to comment on Tuesday's checkpoint raid - an attack that was an apparent violation of the group's recent pledge to stop all military action.
The Islamic militia took control of Mogadishu and most of the rest of southern Somalia this month. It signed an agreement last week to halt all military action and recognize the country's powerless U.N.-backed interim government.
But militia officials subsequently voted to replace their relatively moderate leader, who also had been reaching out to the West, with a radical cleric whom the U.S. has accused of links to al-Qaida.
The militia's attack on the checkpoint was a clear breach of its commitment, said Salad Ali Jelle, a spokesman for Somalia's interim government.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by warlords. Many of the capital's residents applauded the Islamic group for forcing the warlords from Mogadishu, despite concerns the militia may try to install a hard-line Islamic regime similar to Afghanistan under its former Taliban rulers.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday the United States has no plans to engage with the Islamic group's new leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list as a suspected collaborator with al-Qaida.
Aweys, 71, told The Associated Press on Monday that he will honor an agreement by his more moderate predecessor, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, to meet with interim government leaders next month.
He said he plans to tell them that Islamic rule is the only option for Somalia. He also has denied links to al-Qaida.
Underlining the apparent tougher line under Aweys' leadership, militia leaders said they will publicly stone to death four suspected rapists if they are convicted Thursday in Jowhar, 55 miles from Mogadishu.
Washington has long-standing concerns that Somalia will become a refuge for members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, much like Afghanistan was in the late 1990s. The U.S. has accused the Islamic militia of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. backed the warlords in their fight against the Islamic militia.