In Somalia, fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts have captured the town of Jowhar, one week after taking control of the capital Mogadishu. This comes on the heels of lawmakers approving a peacekeeping mission for Somalia. The approval of foreign peacekeepers sets the transitional government up for a dramatic, and possibly violent confrontation with the Islamic Courts Union, which has repeatedly rejected the idea of any foreign troops in the country.
A reporter for the French news agency, AFP, who is in Mogadishu, Ali Musa Abdi, describes to VOA the situation in Jowhar, 90 kilometers north of the capital.
"There was brief fighting, which was really very heavy, on the outskirts of Jowhar," he explained. "The fighting was concentrating on the airport area and another village some 15 kilometers from Jowhar. The Islamic Court militia were making [an] advance, while the forces loyal to Somali faction leader Mohamed Omar Habed [Dheere] were retreating back until they [went] back into Jowhar town when their defense line was destroyed. Then they finally left the town and some civilians were fleeing. Fortunately, the violence was not involving the civilian inhabited areas from the beginning."
The battle follows several months of intense warfare in Mogadishu between militias loyal to the Islamic Courts and a group of warlords and militias comprising the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism.
More than 300 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during the latest unrest. Last week, the Islamic Courts claimed to have taken control of Mogadishu and the militia's control has now spread to Jowhar, which at one time was the temporary location of the transitional Somali government.
Warlords supporting the anti-terrorism alliance had moved into Jowhar following their defeat in Mogadishu.
The Islamic Courts militia controls much of southern Somalia. It is not clear at this point whether it will work with the fledgling transitional government, which is based in the town of Baidoa, or set up an administration that will rival the government.
Ever since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order or basic services to the population.
A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago as part of an effort to bring peace to the country.