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Militia Leaders Say They'll Help the Unsteady Somalia Government


Leaders of an Islamist militia met with Somalia's president and prime minister in Mogadishu, pledging to work with the fragile government. But renewed fighting between two other Islamist militias in the capital provides a reminder of the continued resistance to the government.

In the presidential palace in Mogadishu, leaders of the Hizbul Islam, or Islamic Party, met with President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Omar Ali Sharmarke.

A spokesman for the Hizbul Islam faction, Daud Mohamed Abtidon, said the group was represented by its leader Mohamed Hassan Amey and its top military commander Yusuf Indha Ade.

He said the leaders had agreed to support the government's efforts to enact Islamic law in the country. And he said the group would work with the government to provide security in Mogadishu.

The current government came to power in January after President Sharif's moderate faction of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, an Islamist opposition group, signed an agreement with the government allowing its members to join the country's parliament.

President Sharif's government has reached out to other Islamist militias by, among other things, passing a decision in parliament to enact Islamic Sharia law. Some of the militias - including the Hizbul Islam faction that met with the president Thursday - have agreed to support the government, while others continue to resist it.

Shortly after Thursday's meeting, fighting broke out in the capital between members of the pro-government Islamic Courts Union and the anti-government al-Shabab, or the Youth, a hard-line Islamist militia with ties to Al Qaida. At least two people have died in the clashes, which started after an assassination attempt on a Shabab leader.

Local media have reported that al-Shabab has brought a large amount of heavy weaponry into the capital in recent days, possibly in preparation for an attack on the African Union peacekeeping mission in the country.

The government also recently accused Eritrea of sending weapons to the insurgents. Eritrea has denied the charge, but the United Nations and other observers have long accused Eritrea of backing Somalia's insurgency. Many of Somalia's Islamist leaders, including the current president, were at one point based in the Eritrean capital.

The United Nations maintains an arms embargo on Somalia, which the government has requested be lifted.

The African Union currently has about 3,500 Ugandan and Burundian troops deployed in the capital. The peacekeepers have become a growing target of insurgents since Ethiopian troops withdrew from the country at the start of the year. At least 12 peacekeepers have been killed so far this year.

Somalia has been without a proper central government since 1991, when the authoritarian ruler Mohamed Siad Barre was removed from power. The instability has contributed to one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and has facilitated a rise in piracy off the Somali coast.

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