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Somali Elders Call on Militias to Stop Fighting

Somali elders Friday are quoted as calling on warring militias in the Somali capital Mogadishu to stop their fighting that has killed hundreds of people in recent weeks.

Elder and mediator Ali Hassan is quoted by the French news agency as saying he and fellow elders have contacted officials from the Islamic Court Union and the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.

Hassan was quoted as saying that, although both sides said they wanted peace, they are actually gearing up for more warfare.

Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of reinforcements and weapons being set up in different sections of Mogadishu.

Militia members have even ventured into areas that are supposed to be off-limits during warfare.

Nicole Engelbrecht is a regional spokeswoman with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). She tells VOA armed fighters have moved into Keysaney Hospital in Mogadishu.

"The ICRC is very worried about the wounded people in there," she said. "Several of them have been evacuated by their own families, taken back to their homes. The health care is being kept up, but on a limited scale because a few doctors also didn't show up for work because the situation in Mogadishu is quite tense. So the military operation of these armed fighters obviously hamper the access of people to the hospital."

Engelbrecht says the presence in the hospital of the armed fighters, whose militia she did not identify, breaks several codes of warfare.

"International humanitarian law prohibits the use of hospitals for the conduct of hostilities. This is also something that is reflected in the traditional Somali code of warfare," she added.

Engelbrecht says that ever since the fighting erupted in February, at least 300 people have been killed and 700 treated for injuries in the hospitals ICRC supports.

Media reports describe the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, formed earlier this year, as being a coalition of warlords who aim to stem what they feel is growing Islamic extremism in Somalia. The Islamic Court Union is said to want to maintain law and order in the volatile capital.

The United States has long been concerned that chaotic Somalia could become a haven for international terrorists.

There have been more than a dozen attempts to form a central government in Somalia ever since civil war broke out in 1991. Since then, warlords and their militias have battled with each other and civilians to control different parts of the country.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following a two-year peace process, and recently met for the first time in Somalia.