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Somali Islamists Warn Western Aid Agencies
MOGADISHU, Oct 3, 2008 – Islamist insurgents controlling swathes of southern Somalia have warned Western charities working there not to meddle in their affairs, stoking fears of increasingly hardline rule.
As when they ruled south Somalia for six months in 2006, residents say the Islamists are again providing much-needed security but also imposing fundamentalist practices in areas they have re-taken this year.
"We warn International Medical Corps and Care International operating in areas under our control not to interfere as they have done before," Sheikh Muktar Robow Abumansoor, the spokesman of al Shabaab Islamists, told Reuters without elaborating.
"The same case applies to all NGO's if they misbehave. We have already taken NGO property in Bay and Bakool regions."
Those words are likely to be chilling to charities, given a wave of attacks against aid workers trying to deal with one of Africa 's worst humanitarian crises. There was no immediate response from the agencies.
Since being driven from Mogadishu at the end of 2006, the rebels have waged an Iraq-style insurgency against President Abdillahi Yusuf's administration and Ethiopian military allies.
In August, al Shabaab captured Kismayu, a port that is the second biggest city in the south after the capital Mogadishu .
The United States , which has launched air strikes inside Somalia in recent months, has listed al Shabaab as a terrorist organization with close ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.
Now governing large parts of the south, the Islamists have banned any forms of entertainment they see as un-Islamic, local Somalis say, drawing unfavorable comparisons to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
When they controlled Mogadishu in 2006, traditionally moderate Muslims were troubled by signs of fundamentalist practices such as closing video parlors, enforcing dress codes and ordering a radio station to stop playing love songs.
"There are no mortars here but we cannot say there is peace when there is no freedom. They have closed video halls and banned music," said Kismayu resident Osman Farah, surrounded by other teens milling about with nothing for entertainment.
This week alone, the movement has established a new Islamic court in the Kismayu area and closed four mosques for marking the Muslim Eid holiday a day after others. They also demolished an old church that sheltered people displaced by fighting.
"Destroying a church or closing mosques is violation of freedom of worship," said Yasin Ali Gedi, the vice chairman of Elman human rights group told Reuters. "They have destroyed it on pretext of religion. They have made poor people homeless."
The Islamists are curtailing the sale of a narcotic leaf popular in Somalia called khat and residents say they shot at a plane about to deliver it.
"They have fuelled inflation by closing many sources of income without replacing them with income-generating projects," Yasin Ali Gedi, a local activist, told Reuters.
Residents also accuse them of depriving some of relief food.
"They give only to those who conform to their extremist ideology -- people with veils or long beards, Fatuma Hassan, a mother of four, told Reuters.
However, some residents say the Islamists have tightened security and reduced port taxes, which they now call a donation.
"There is free movement of people and vehicles from village to village. There are no checkpoints or killings," said Abdirashid Dure, a local elder in Kismayu.
One Islamist leader based in neighboring Eritrea said the movement would rectify any mistakes done in Kismayu.
"We are human beings to make mistakes, but we shall correct them," Hassan Dahir Aweys, told Reuters by phone from Asmara .
"I will tell my friends in Kismayu to avoid actions that portray ignorance or bring hatred. We shall abide by the Islamic rule and avoid anything that's not in the interest of our people." (Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; editing by Matthew Tostevin)