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Somalia Islamists Deny Presence Of Foreign Trainers
HIILWEYNE, Somalia, Aug 30, 2006 – Somalia's powerful Islamists on Wednesday strongly denied reports that foreign military instructors were training their militiamen.
The Islamists' security chief Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siyad called reporters to the Hiilweyne training camp, 25 km north of the capital Mogadishu, for a press conference to deny there were any foreigners training the 650 fighters.
"I want to declare here that there are no foreign trainers from anywhere who are training these militias," the sheikh, commonly known as Inda'ade, said.
"We only have Somali trainers who are teaching them military skills as well as others who are teaching them Islamic knowledge."
Earlier this month, Reuters and some Somali media quoted local residents as saying that foreign trainers from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Eritrea were present.
Thirty-two Somali trainers were presented to the press at the camp, 20 of them military instructors and the others Islamic teachers.
Some Western security experts have consistently charged that the Islamists, who want Somalia governed by strict Islamic law, have links to foreign radicals.
The Islamists, who seized Mogadishu and a strategic swathe of south-central Somalia after defeating U.S.-backed warlords in June, have always denied such links.
Hiilweyne was a military training camp constructed in 1968 under the regime of dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre. His 1991 ouster plunged Somalia into 15 years of anarchy where warlords fought for control of the Horn of Africa nation of 10 million.
Abdi Salat, who has lived in Hiilweyne working as a trainer for 31 years, said he was surprised at the reports.
"I joined here in 1975 and I have never seen any foreigners conducting training here," he told Reuters while seated with his colleagues, all wearing combat fatigues.
Inda'ade said the fighters being trained are those who fought the Islamists during the battle for Mogadishu, and that none had been forced to join the camp.