U.N. Officials Meet Militia in Somalia

The Associated Press
Monday, July 3, 2006; 2:24 PM

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- U.N. security officials met Monday with the Islamic militia that runs Somalia's capital, the first formal contact since the militants' seizure of Mogadishu and much of the south.

The militia's leader said a weekend message from Osama bin Laden _ portraying Somalia as a battleground in a global war on the United States _ showed the al-Qaida leader sympathized with the Somali militia and its supporters.

Another militia official, the head of its executive council, called on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian troops believed to have crossed the border.

A two-member U.N. security team visited Mogadishu's airport and seaport to assess conditions for a possible increase in humanitarian operations.

The U.N. officials held talks with leaders of the Islamic militia. Details of that meeting were not immediately available, said Abdi Rahiin Adow, an aide to the head of the militia's consultative council.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe declined to comment on the team's findings, or whether it will recommend that U.N. humanitarian agencies return to Somalia.

"We'll have to see what they recommend in terms of what kind of access they had and what kind of guarantees they're able to get," she said.

Militia leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, whom the U.S. has accused of links to al-Qaida, said Sunday that bin Laden cannot tell Somalis what they should do.

But he also said the fugitive al-Qaida leader's latest message showed no ill will toward the Islamic militia.

"No one can dictate (to) us what we are to do," he said in a radio address. "Osama's message would not harm the Somali people who stood up to restore law and order in their country and who are committed to defend their religion and dignity."

Washington has accused the Islamic group of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The hard-line Aweys replaced the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who charged Sunday that Ethiopians had been illegally entering Somalia since June.

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