Somali warlords flee stronghold

Three top members of a United States-backed alliance of warlords have fled their last remaining stronghold in southern Somalia, apparently to discourage an attack on the town by an increasingly powerful Islamic militia, two Somali officials said on Wednesday.

The fundamentalists had dispatched scores of fighters in jeeps mounted with machine guns earlier this week to prepare for a battle for Jowhar, 90km from the capital, Mogadishu.

But clan elders in Jowhar urged the warlords to leave, the officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The warlords included two former members of Somalia’s transitional government, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah and Botan Isse Allen, the officials said. The men left Jowhar on Tuesday night.

The Islamic militiamen took control of Mogadishu last week after months of fighting that left more than 330 people dead, many of them civilians.

Mogadishu has been relatively calm since the Islamic militias took control.
For its residents, relief over an end to fighting has mixed with uncertainty about the intentions of their new rulers, who have vowed to install an Islamic government and court system.

US officials have said they supported the warlords’ fight against Islamic leaders accused of harbouring three al-Qaeda leaders indicted in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when largely clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. An interim government, formed with the support of the United Nations, has failed to assert any real control outside its base in Baidoa, 250km from Mogadishu.

The US State Department has announced that it would form a Somali Contact Group on Thursday in New York to address the situation in Somalia. - Sapa-AP

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