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Somalia’s Islamic leaders begin talks with UN-backed government

June 8, 2006 (MOGADISHU, Somalia) — Islamic leaders who seized Somalia’s capital after weeks of bloody fighting were beginning talks Thursday with the U.N.-backed government that has so far failed to assert any real control over the nation.

The Islamic militia captured Mogadishu and surrounding areas after defeating a U.S.-backed alliance of warlords, tightening its grip on Somalia. The weak interim government, wracked by infighting, hasn’t even been able to enter the capital because of the violence, instead operating 250 kilometers away, in Baidoa.

Two ministers from the interim government were meeting with “top leaders of the Islamic Courts Union on Thursday,” government spokesman Abdirahman Nur Mohamed Dinari said.

The growing power of the Islamic militia – which has alleged links to al-Qaida – has raised fears that Somalia, which has been in chaos for more than a decade, could fall under the sway of Osama bin Laden’s group. U.S. officials have confirmed cooperating with the secular warlords in an attempt to root out terrorists.

In a letter to the U.S. and other governments, the chairman of the Islamic Courts Union said the U.S. bore some blame for the bloodshed. The battle for Mogadishu killed at least 330 people, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

“The alleged support of the U.S. government to these warlords has contributed considerably to the recent fighting in Mogadishu and the killing of the Somali people who have suffered so long in the hands of these warlords,” according to the letter, which was dated Wednesday and signed by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed Wednesday the Islamic Courts Union had sent a letter to the U.S., but added that Washington was reserving judgment.

“In terms of the Islamic courts, our understanding is that this isn’t a monolithic group, that it’s really an effort on the part of some individuals to try to restore some semblance of order in Mogadishu,” McCormack told reporters.

Somalia has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, dividing this nation of 8 million into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms.

(ST/AP)

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