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Uneasy Calm Returns to Somalia’s Restive Capital

Uneasy calm has returned to the Somali capital, Mogadishu after at least two weeks of heavy fighting between hard line Islamic insurgents and government forces. The Islamic hard liners, including al-Shabaab gained significant grounds after capturing two strategic towns including the birth place of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

The new Somali administration has blamed neighboring Eritrea for providing logistics to the insurgents to destabilize Somalia, a charge Asamara has sharply denied. Al-Shabaab has refused to recognize the new Somali administration, vowing to eventually take over the country through violence.

Abdushakur Warsame is the Somali minister for Planning and International Cooperation. He told VOA the government is in absolute command of the capital, Mogadishu.

"Mogadishu is very calm and everything is under control of the government. And now we are trying to finalize the preparation for defending the city and defending the people against foreign fighters who are trying to overthrow the government," Warsame said.

He denied Islamic insurgents are involved in various attempts to remove the new administration from power.

"There are no Islamic insurgents; there are foreign fighters who are trying to overthrow the government of Somalia and they are also a threat to the region," he said.

Warsame said the new government is setting in motion plans to restore peace in the country after 18 years without an effective government.

"Our preparation is good and everything now is in control and the government will soon capture and be in control of the city," Warsame said.

Meanwhile, both Mogadishu and Addis Ababa have denied a return of Ethiopian troops into Somalia to support the new Somalia administration. There were earlier reports citing Ethiopian troops crossing into Somalia where hard line Islamic insurgents battled with government forces over the last two weeks.

Warsame described as unfounded reports suggesting a return of Ethiopian troops.

"The information we have gathered from sources in the region stated that Ethiopia has closed their border and they have stationed quite a reasonable number of their forces on their border. We don't have the information that Ethiopia has crossed into Somalia," Warsame said.

He said Mogadishu has not made a decision to ask Addis Ababa for help against insurgent attacks.

"We have not taken that decision yet and now we have the African Union Peacekeeping Forces (AMISOM). I think we have the capacity to protect the people against foreign fighters," he said.

Warsame said the new government aims to take absolute charge of the city despite incursions by opposition forces who want to violently wrestle power from President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's administration.

"Our priority is to control the city and to take Jowhar… and we are trying to protect our nation against foreign fighters," Warsame said.

Somalia has often accused Eritrea of supporting hard line insurgents who aim to seize control of the country, a charge Asamara denies.

Warsame said Mogadishu has expressed its objection to what it described as Asmara's meddling in Somalia's internal political dynamics.

"We have already addressed the Security Council and we informed the relevant agencies of the Security Council that Eritrea are supporting foreign fighters who are fighting inside Somalia," he said.

Warsame said the government is seeking cooperation from neighboring countries to help stabilize Somalia.

"We are now working together very closely with neighboring countries particularly Kenya and Djibouti and Ethiopia to try to control and work together in order to stop those who are coming from countries into Somalia," Warsame said.

Some analysts claim the deadly clashes between forces loyal to the new Somali administration and hard line Islamic Insurgents including al-Shabaab have left at least 175 civilians dead and more than 500 injured.

Described by Washington as a terrorist organization, al-Shabaab has refused to recognize President Sharif Ahmed's administration vowing instead to take over the country and implement the hard line version of the Sharia law.

Forces loyal to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed reportedly control some parts of the capital, Mogadishu and a few other areas.

Sharif's new administration is the 15th attempt in 18 years to set up central rule in Somalia. Concerned Neighboring states, including Ethiopia, and Western security forces express fear Somalia could become a haven for al Qaeda-linked extremists.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was formally the chairman of the Islamic Courts Union that ran Mogadishu in 2006 before Ethiopian troops, wary of having an Islamist state next door, invaded and ousted them from power.

Somalia has been without an effective government for at least 18 years after the overthrow of former President Mohammed Siad Barre through a coup d'état.