- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia (Agence France-Presse) — Somali government forces marched on the last stronghold of the country’s powerful Islamist movement yesterday, even as Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi called for dialogue with Islamist leaders.

Residents said fighter jets, thought to be Ethiopian, were flying over Kismayo, about 300 miles south of the capital, prompting fears of attacks on the city.

“Our troops are moving towards Kismayo,” Mr. Gedi told reporters.

Islamist fighters had regrouped in Kismayo after government forces backed by Ethiopian troops forced them to abandon the capital Mogadishu on Thursday, following 10 days of heavy fighting.

Witnesses told Agence France-Presse that they had seen a convoy of military vehicles heading in the direction of Kismayo and others said planes were flying over the city.

“Military jets are flying over the town. We cannot see them [because it is night], but they are flying low-level, they have not dropped any bomb yet,” Farahan Jiis, a resident, said.

“We can hear the terrible sound they are making,” added Leila Sheikh Aden.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Gedi had called on his government’s Islamist rivals to “join us” and enter into a dialogue. At the same time he warned of serious reprisals if the Islamists followed through on threats to wage a guerrilla campaign.

The appeal for talks came as Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Aidid warned that the security situation in the capital, which has long been awash with arms, remained potentially volatile, with “around 2,000” Islamists thought to have remained behind when the city was taken.

“Some are hiding in houses and some are armed,” Mr. Aidid said. “There are mines, lots of weapons and many foreign fighters in the city.”

A day of violence and looting after the Islamists abandoned Mogadishu triggered fears of a return to the bleak days when the capital was a battleground for feuding clan chiefs.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed held talks with clan elders yesterday in Afgoye, west of Mogadishu, and later announced the nomination of a new mayor for the capital and the reinstatement of the city’s police chief.

Somalia’s transitional administration, which has international recognition, was set up in October 2004 in a bid to impose the rule of law in a nation where political institutions had become powerless.

Mr. Gedi’s arrival in Mogadishu on Friday marked the first time the weak interim government has been in a position to exercise authority in the capital, which was under Islamist control for six months.

The city has witnessed several angry protests in the past two days against the presence of Ethiopian troops, with demonstrators hurling stones and burning tires in the streets.

Somalia fought wars against Ethiopia in 1964 and in 1977-78.

In Kismayo, senior Islamist leader Sheik Shariff Sheik Ahmed vowed that the movement would continue to wage war against the Ethiopian troops.

“I want to tell you that the Islamic courts are still alive and ready to fight against the enemy of Allah,” Sheik Ahmed told residents in the port town.

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