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Somalia's Islamists Vow to Heed al-Qaida

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It was not clear what kind of weapons the men have at their disposal, but grenades, mortars and Kalashnikov assault rifles are readily available at the city's Bakaara Market.

Al-Qaida's call for revenge came at a precarious time for Somalia's government, which controlled one town before Ethiopia stepped in with MiG fighter jets, tanks and well-trained soldiers.

Ethiopia now wants to pull its force out in a few weeks, saying its soldiers cannot be peacekeepers and it cannot afford for them to stay. Somalia is trying to train its own military and police while the plan for an international force is put in place.

On Friday, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi welcomed back into his army more than 1,000 men who once served under Mohamed Siad Barre, a military dictator whose ouster at the hands of clan-based warlords in 1991 plunged the country into 15 years of anarchy. Most of the men appeared to be well over 50.

A meeting of U.S., European Union, African and Arab diplomats ended in Kenya on Friday with a U.S. pledge to provide $40 million to Somalia in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, and a plan to ask more African nations to send troops to help stabilize the country. Uganda has pledged at least 1,000 peacekeepers.

The EU said it would also help pay for a peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.

Still supported by Ethiopians, government troops prepared Friday for a major assault on Ras Kamboni, the last stronghold of the Islamic militia. U.S. warships patrolled offshore to prevent militiamen from escaping by sea.

The U.S. 5th Fleet said vessels were being boarded to look for militants, including three al-Qaida suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The Islamic council has denied U.S. allegations that three were leaders in the Somali movement.

Col. Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire, the Somali defense minister, said Islamic militiamen were dug in with their backs to the sea at Ras Kamboni at the southernmost tip of the country.

"Today we will launch a massive assault on the Islamic courts militias. We will use infantry troops and fighter jets," he said. "They have dug huge trenches around Ras Kamboni but have only two options: to drown in the sea or to fight and die."

Somalia's last effective central government fell in 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew Barre and then turned on each other. The current government was formed two years ago with the help of the United Nations, but was weakened by internal rifts.

One Islamic fighter, who refused to have his name published, said Friday that he doesn't believe the government can last on its own, although he said he hadn't left his home.

"I'm not scared of the government," he said, saying he was biding his time in hopes that the Islamic movement comes back.

___

Associated Press writers Mohamed Olad Hassan and Salad Duhul contributed to this report.


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