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Forces Loyal to Puntland President Seize Control of Garowe

At least 11 Somalis were reported killed Wednesday when forces loyal to the ousted former president of Somalia's breakaway Puntland region seized control of the capital.

Hundreds of militiamen loyal to Puntland's former president, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, attacked the capital city of Garowe, using anti-aircraft guns mounted on pick-up trucks.

The attackers reportedly concentrated on the home of President Jama Ali Jama who was elected at a conference of elders and civic leaders on November 14. Reports say Jama Ali Jama has fled Garowe and that Colonel Abdullahi's men have set up checkpoints on all roads out of the city, which is 800 kilometers north west of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Mohamed Abshir, chairman of the constitutional conference that brought Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf to power in 1998, says there was little resistance. Mr. Abshir says the police seem to have taken Colonel Abdullahi's side.

"I think the police force divided into two. There's the mobile police and the regular police and it seems that both of them - and the headquarters are in Garowe - have supported him. I understand he had about one-thousand strong force to come to Garowe. But there wasn't really much resistance. The casualties you heard were the guards guarding the individual personalities, particularly Jama Ali Jama," he said.

The autonomous region of Puntland was established in 1998 to escape the bloodshed that engulfed the rest of Somalia. The country had been torn by clan fighting since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Colonel Abdullahi was chosen to lead a three-year transitional government and prepare Puntland for elections. But he did not do so. Instead, he attempted to extend his mandate for another three years.

Mr. Abshir, chairman of Puntland's founding constitutional conference, says that move was illegal. Local militias overthrew Colonel Abdullahi in August and a second constitutional conference elected President Juma Ali Juma to replace him.

But Mr. Abshir says many people disputed the legitimacy of the conference, which he says was dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. Mr. Abshir says unhappiness with the fundamentalist influence increased popular support for Colonel Abdullahi.

"There's a great deal of fundamentalist activities and influence and people are not happy with that. And they feel the only person who can stand to this is Abdullahi. In order to oppose the fundamentalists, who have been gaining more and more ground and who were dominating the conference, this is where the public backlash came from. Abdullahi had no significant public support, but during the three months of the conference -and the emergence of the fundamentalists - returned some more support for him," he said.

According to news reports, Colonel Abdullahi's forces are moving towards coastal city of Bossaso. Bossaso is important because its port provides the government with the bulk of its finances.

Mr. Abshir says Colonel Abdullahi could have difficulties reaching Bossaso as he will have to pass through Gardo, which is home to President Jama Ali Jama.