/ 13 March 2008

Islamists behead three soldiers in Somalia

Islamist insurgents cut off the heads of three Somali soldiers south of the capital on Thursday and the United Nations special envoy said he would try to set up peace talks between the opposition and government.

It was the first case of beheadings since the government and its Ethiopian military allies ousted the Islamists from power in late 2006, sparking a bloody insurgency characterised by roadside bombs and hit-and-run attacks.

”This morning the mujahideen attacked the so-called government troops guarding the roads for the Ethiopian forces. We killed three of them,” said Muktar Ali Robow, a senior commander of the Islamists’ Shabab youth wing.

”We did what we promised to them. People travelling in that road can be asked how we killed them,” he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Witnesses in the area said they saw three headless corpses near Lego town, 130km south of Mogadishu.

”We were terrified because we have never seen a human slaughtered like an animal,” truck driver Hassan Mohamed Amin told Reuters.

At least 7 000 people have died, and hundreds of thousands been displaced in the 15-month insurgency, creating what aid workers call one of the world’s worst yet most ignored humanitarian crises.

Peace talks?

The government appealed again this week for its foes to join talks led by the United Nations.

”I have no doubt that all Somalis and their concerned friends, governments and organisations will support this move,” said United Nations envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.

”As requested by the Somali parties, I will assume the leadership role and will contact all sides to propose the timing and modalities for future discussions,” he added in a statement issued from his office in Nairobi.

Analysts believe, however, it is unlikely Islamist-led insurgents, many of whom view their attacks on the Western-backed government as a jihad, could be persuaded to join.

And an Eritrean-based alliance of Somali opposition groups — made up of former parliamentarians, Islamists and some members of the foreign diaspora — is insisting Ethiopian troops withdraw before talks.

Ethiopia sent thousands of soldiers into Somalia in late 2006 to help the government, virtually encircled in the town of Baidoa, topple Somalia’s Islamic Courts Council which had ruled most of the south from Mogadishu since the middle of that year.

The scattered Islamist fighters regrouped and have waged an Iraq-style insurgency.

Ould-Abdallah, who works from Nairobi due to insecurity in Mogadishu, said civil society organisations and Somalis in the diaspora were eager to join reconciliation discussions. – Reuters