Somali Militia Still Ready to Negotiate, Despite New Leadership

By Salad Duhul
Associated Press
Monday, June 26, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia, June 25 -- The Islamic militia that controls Somalia's capital and just named a suspected al-Qaeda associate as its leader said Sunday it was still willing to negotiate with the weak interim government that has been operating out of Baidoa, in the unstable country's west.

The militia's new leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, has condemned the interim government in the past and said he opposed Western-style democracy for Somalia. He could not be reached for comment Sunday; several officials said he was not in the capital, Mogadishu.

A top member of the militia said the decision Saturday to restructure the group by adding dozens of new members as well as the new leader was a way to incorporate "different aspects of the community" as it negotiates with the government.

"We recently had a preliminary deal with the interim government, so we decided to give an opportunity to selective members of the Somali people to join us in our coming negotiations with government," said Abdi-rahin Adow, the militia's secretary.

The group is pushing for a national government based on strict Islamic law, saying that in the absence of a strong central government, it is the only way for Somalia to emerge from 15 years of anarchy.

The appointment of Aweys is likely to stoke Washington's long-standing fears that this Horn of Africa nation will become a haven for Osama bin Laden's terror network, as Afghanistan did in the 1990s. The State Department had no immediate comment.

The Islamic militia seized control of Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia from an alliance of secular warlords this month. The United States, which accuses the militia of harboring al-Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, supported the warlords.

A largely powerless, U.N.-backed government sits in Baidoa, about 140 miles west of Mogadishu, but it has failed to assert any real control in the country.

Last week, the Islamic militia's previous leader, Sharif Ahmed, agreed to halt military activities and recognize the interim government.

In recent weeks, Ahmed had been softening his rhetoric calling for strict Islamic law in Mogadishu, instead telling foreign journalists that he wanted to abide by "the will of the people."

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