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Somalia Leader: Troops 'Firmly in Control' of Mogadishu


Somalia's interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi says his secular government troops and their Ethiopian allies are firmly in control of the capital, Mogadishu, one day after the once-powerful Islamists hastily abandoned the city. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

In a telephone interview with VOA shortly before he entered the capital, Prime Minister Gedi says Somali government troops are now headquartered in the former U.S. Embassy compound in western Mogadishu and assessing the security situation.

The interim leader acknowledges that the first priority for his government is to restore stability in the capital. He says he has been given assurances by clan elders in Mogadishu that they would switch support of the Islamists to the interim government and help disarm and re-train hundreds of Islamist militiamen, who found themselves without a job Thursday after the sudden collapse of the Islamist movement.

"They are ready to hand over weapons to the government and also the militias to be trained in camps. So, this is a victory for the Somali people in the country and in particular, the capital city of Mogadishu," he said.

Many Islamist fighters shed their uniforms and sought advice from clan leaders about what to do next. Clan elders form the backbone of Somali society and are often called upon to intervene in times of crisis.

Mogadishu was thrown into chaos Thursday when leaders of the Islamist movement, which had controlled the city and large parts of the country for nearly seven months, fled rather than face militarily superior Ethiopian and government troops marching toward the capital.

The Islamists say they withdrew from the capital to avoid civilian bloodshed. But Gedi says the Islamists, whose leadership is believed to have ties to the al-Qaida terrorist group, gave up because their frontline troops had been decimated during the eight-day, joint Ethiopian and Somali government offensive to reclaim territory from the Islamists.

"They were utilizing foreign militants as their allies and those forces have been defeated by the forces of the transitional federal government, in cooperation with forces of Ethiopia," he said.

On Thursday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that a total of 2,000 to 3,000 Islamist fighters had been killed and another 4,000 to 5,000 wounded. But he did not say if any of them were foreigners.

But in recent weeks, Somali experts have estimated that as many as 3,000 foreign fighters may have been in Somalia, invited by several radical leaders of the Islamic Courts Union.

Those leaders are now believed to near the southern port of Kismayo and with their militiamen and members of a militant Muslim youth group known as the Shaabab.

There is now growing concern that the radical wing of the Islamists movement could now try to wage a guerrilla war, involving car bombings and other acts of terrorism, in Ethiopia and other parts of east Africa.

Prime Minister Gedi's secular interim government was formed two years ago with U.N. backing. But clan rivalries has kept the government weak, unpopular, and for the past year, marooned in the town of Baidoa, 250 kilometers from the capital.

Ethiopia, which feared Somalia would become a fundamentalist state bent on territorial conquest, became the main supporter of the interim government. Despite a long history of bad blood and war between the two countries, the interim government accepted Ethiopian help.

Analysts say the government must now assert independent authority or risk being perceived as a puppet to Addis Ababa.

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