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Somali Islamists Open Court In Govt-Controlled Area
MOGADISHU, Jul 17, 2006 – Islamists who control Mogadishu and a large swathe of southern Somalia have opened a sharia court to serve two government-controlled regions, officials said on Monday.
The Islamic movement has set up nine new courts in areas it has seized since driving out U.S.-backed warlords from Mogadishu on June 5, but it is the first time the Islamists have established a court in an area they do not yet control.
The move is likely to inflame tensions between the Islamists and the government, which is struggling to assert its authority beyond is temporary base in the provincial town of Baidoa.
A day after the interim government agreed to continue talks with the newly powerful Islamists, the Islamic movement announced it had opened the Al-Bayan court in the Bay and Bakol area which falls under the direct control of the government.
Top Islamist leader, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, called on the Digil and Mirifle clan in those areas to cooperate.
"We ask you to hand over all your weapons to this court," Sharif told a gathering of Islamic officials and wealthy businessmen from the two regions.
"We urge all the Digil and Mirifle to support such Islamic practices."
A wealthy Mogadishu businessman who declined to be named spoke on behalf of other businessmen from the two regions. "We are a Muslim and it is a must to practice Islam," he said.
The Islamic Courts Union, an alliance of sharia courts from which the Islamist movement sprang, is the biggest threat to the authority of interim President Abdillahi Yusuf's Western-backed government.
Many fear that tensions between the Islamists -- led by longtime Yusuf foe and hardline cleric Hassan Dahir Aweys -- and the government will boil over into an all-out fight for supremacy of the anarchic Horn of Africa country of 10 million.
Military and official sources told Reuters last week that thousands of Ethiopian troops, whose government is allied to the interim Somali government, were scattered within several locations in Somalia, including the outskirts of Baidoa in a bid to prevent possible Islamist attacks.
Militia sources said on Sunday the Islamists had agreed on a defense line to prevent attacks on the capital at the strategic Baledogle military airport, the midway point on the road between Mogadishu and Baidoa.
"They (Islamists) clearly know that they have an upper hand in terms of their military power vis-à-vis the government," said a U.N. source who follows Somalia closely.
"If Ethiopia comes across the border in mass military numbers, I think all they will do is play into the hands of the militants because it would give the militants a chance for plenty of rejoinders."
Somalia descended into chaos when warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991, before turning on each other and carving the country into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms.