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UN Officials Meet With Somali Islamic Court Leaders


United Nations officials have made their first formal contact with Islamic clerics who rule much of southern Somalia.

A U.N. delegation flew into the capital, Mogadishu, Monday and held talks with top officials from Somalia's Islamic court council.

Islamic court officials say the talks centered on security in Mogadishu. Fighters loyal to the courts seized control of the capital and other areas last month.

Meanwhile, the head of the Islamic courts says his movement has "nothing to do" with new comments from Osama bin Laden.

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys spoke on a Somali radio station Monday, two days after an audio message believed to come from bin Laden warned countries against sending troops to Somalia.

The Islamic courts, like bin Laden, are against a proposal for foreign peacekeepers advanced by Somalia's transitional government.

The U.N.-backed government has little power in the violence-prone country, which has gone without an effective government for 15 years.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said bin Laden has operatives in Somalia, and wants to plunge the Horn of Africa country into further chaos.

The United States has accused of the leader of the Islamic courts, Sheikh Aweys, of having links to al-Qaida.

Washington also accuses Somali Islamists of harboring three al-Qaida operatives who allegedly were involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.
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