Islamist leaders in Somalia say troops from the semi-autonomous Puntland Province have mounted a heavy attack against their militia in northern Somalia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi reports the incident is likely to further strain tense relations between the Islamists and Somalia's interim government.
Speaking to reporters in Mogadishu, Islamist defense chief Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad Inda'ade said troops from Puntland ambushed his forces near the town of Galinsoor, about 60 kilometers south of Puntland.
Inda'ade did not say how many troops were involved in the attack, or if there were any casualties. But he said the troops were heavily-armed, and rode in gun-mounted pick-up trucks, known locally as technicals.
The Islamist defense chief described the attack as an attempt by Puntland leaders to resist the will of the Somali people. He said the leadership in Puntland is trying to create trouble because it refuses to acknowledge that the Somali people want to be ruled by the laws of Islam.
A Puntland official told The Associated Press there was no fighting. The BBC quoted a Puntland official as saying Puntland forces were not involved. But, Puntland's secular president, Adde Muse, has repeatedly vowed to resist the Islamists' rapid expansion in southern and central Somalia.
The leader was taken by surprise when the Islamists moved swiftly into the Galkaayo region, on the border with Puntland in July, scarcely a month after the Islamists seized power from factional leaders in Mogadishu.
Islamist militia leaders say they are committed to establishing law and order in a country that has been in chaos for nearly 15 years. But their critics - including neighboring Ethiopia, Somalia's internationally backed interim government, and the United States - say the Islamists are being increasingly led by extremists with ties to terrorist groups.
Puntland is the home of interim-government President Abdullahi Yusuf, who once led a successful campaign in the province against a militant Somali group called al-Itiyad al Islamiya and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Aweys, who is on a U.S. list of terror suspects, is now the supreme leader of the Islamist group known as the Islamic Courts, which controls much of the country.
Meanwhile, the speaker of parliament for the interim government, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, met with Islamist leaders in Mogadishu for a second day to try to revive the peace process.
Adan and more than a dozen other members of parliament reportedly made the trip to Mogadishu from the town of Baidoa, where the interim government has its headquarters, without consulting the Cabinet to coordinate strategy. There has been no official response from the interim government about the speaker's visit.
The third round of peace talks collapsed last week in Sudan, amid Islamist demands for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia and for the removal of Kenya as co-mediator, along with the Arab League, in the talks.
Ethiopian leaders deny Islamist charges that as many as 12-thousand Ethiopian troops have been deployed inside Somalia and in Puntland. But Addis Ababa has acknowledged sending military trainers to Baidoa to support the interim government.
Somalia's secular interim government was formed in 2004 with U.N. backing. But it has been too weak to move from its base in Baidoa to Mogadishu and has seen its authority severely diminished by the rise of the Islamist movement.