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Islamic forces take control of Somali town

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MOGADISHU, Somalia, November 21, 2006 - Militia loyal a powerful Somali Islamic movement on Tuesday stormed into a central Somali town, seizing it without clashes as the lawless nation inched closer to an all-out war.

As Islamic gunmen fought with Ethiopian forces, deployed to protect the weak government, in separate locations in southern Somalia, the Islamists said they entered Abudwaq town in Galgudud region to jubilation from residents.

"The Islamic courts supported by local militia have taken control of Abudwaq," said Mohamed Jumale Agoweyne, the spokesperson for the Islamists in Galgudud region.

Islamic leaders said residents are ready to expand the existing Sharia courts in the region, home to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia.

"The people are ready to setup and expand existing Islamic courts. Who is crazy to fight the implementation of the laws of Allah?" said Sheikh Abdixafid Abdillahi, a top Islamists.

With the UN seeking to save Somalia from deeper turmoil, experts and diplomats have warned the Islamists' expansionist tendency, coupled with recent escalations, could erupt into full-scale war and engulf the Horn of Africa region in bloody conflict.

The Islamists, who have declared holy war on Ethiopia, say they will continue attacks until Addis Ababa pulls out its troops deployed in Somalia to protect the government.

Addis Ababa denies such reports, but confirms sending military trainers and advisors.

Experts have warned that Somalia could become a battle ground for Ethiopia and Eritrea, which has been accused of deploying thousands of fighters to back the Islamists.

According to a recent report, compiled by experts monitoring a 1992 UN arms embargo, the Somali situation contains "all of the ingredients for the increasing possibility of a violent, widespread, and protracted military conflict."

The Horn of Africa nation, home to 10 million people has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre. The two-year-old government has failed to exert its control across the whole nation.

Apart from the conflict, recurrent famine, drought and floods, have worsened suffering in the country.

Source: AFP, Nov 21, 2006


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