- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) | Somali lawmakers pleaded Saturday for international military intervention within 24 hours to help fight Islamic insurgents in the lawless African nation, where fierce fighting has resumed in the capital.

A suicide attack in western Somalia killed the country’s national security minister and four other government officials Thursday. And battles between rebels and government troops have left at least 10 people dead in Mogadishu since Friday, witnesses said.

The fighting also forced parliament to meet in the presidential palace Saturday rather than its usual venue in northern Mogadishu.

“We have, as a parliament, decided to ask the regional governments - like Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti - as well as the international community to intervene militarily in Somalia within 24 hours to help the Somali nation,” said parliament Speaker Sheik Adam Mohamed Nor.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who is also a member of parliament, did not take part but it was not clear why.

There was no immediate indication whether Somalia’s neighbors would answer parliament’s plea for foreign troops. There is already an African Union force in Mogadishu, but its mandate is restricted to guarding government officials and installations.

Two years ago, Ethiopia deployed troops to support Somalia’s fragile, Western-backed government, but they were widely unpopular and were finally withdrawn in January after the election of the new president. Last month Ethiopia sent in troops to the border regions of Somalia.

A surge in violence in May, which diplomats said was a major push by the insurgents to force the government out of its Mogadishu strongholds, killed nearly 200 civilians. Nearly 126,000 people have fled their homes since May 7, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The United Nations says an estimated 3.2 million Somalis - almost half the country’s population - need food and other humanitarian aid.

The attack that killed the government officials Thursday also killed 31 other people, a hospital official there said late Friday.

The extremist Islamic group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for that attack. The State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda. Al-Shabab denies it.

The Cabinet called Saturday for the president to declare a state of emergency, though such a move would be unlikely to change much, as the weak government controls only a few blocks of the capital and a border town.

“The country is in danger. The humanitarian situation is at the worst level and the Somali soil and flag are in danger,” said Farhan Ali Mohamud, the information minister.

Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya are members of the Intergovernmental Authority Development, a regional group that has led past peace talks on Somalia and last month imposed a sea and air blockade to stop supplies reaching the Islamic insurgents in Somalia. It is not clear whether the blockade is effective.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when the overthrow of a dictatorship plunged the country into chaos.

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