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U.N. officials meet Islamic leaders in Somalia
The Associated Press
MOGADISHU, Somalia — U.N. security officials met Monday with the Islamic militia that runs Somalia's capital, the first formal contact since they seized Mogadishu and much of the south.
The militia's leader said a weekend message from Osama bin Laden — portraying Somalia as a battleground in a global war on the United States — showed the al-Qaida leader sympathized with the Somali militia and its supporters.
Another militia official, the head of its executive council, called on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian troops believed to have crossed the border.
A two-member U.N. security team visited Mogadishu's airport and seaport to assess conditions for a possible increase in humanitarian operations.
The U.N. officials held talks with leaders of the Islamic militia. Details of that meeting were not available, said Abdi Rahiin Adow, an aide to the head of the militia's consultative council.
U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe declined to comment on the team's findings, or whether it will recommend that U.N. humanitarian agencies return to Somalia.
"We'll have to see what they recommend in terms of what kind of access they had and what kind of guarantees they're able to get," she said.
Militia leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, whom the U.S. has accused of links to al-Qaida, said Sunday that bin Laden cannot tell Somalis what they should do. But he also said the fugitive al-Qaida leader's latest message showed no ill will toward the Islamic militia.
Washington has accused the Islamic group of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The hard-line Aweys replaced the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who charged Sunday that Ethiopians had been illegally entering Somalia since June.
Osman resigned last week, two days after Aweys took charge of the militias. On Monday, he booked a plane ticket home to Minnesota. "I have nothing to do with those people now," Osman said from Nairobi. "I'm so depressed the last three nights I'm almost out of my mind."
The fatal June 23 shooting of a Swedish journalist, Martin Adler, appeared to signal the growing power of Mogadishu's most extreme elements. Aweys took control the following day and soon announced he intended to extend his interpretation of Islamic law to all of Somalia. He also announced five alleged rapists would be stoned to death, in accordance with sharia.
"The radicals won," said Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minn. "The radicals got the upper hand in this movement so they can impose their vision of Islamic sharia."
Relations have cooled between the militias and the nominal national government, which is backed by the African Union and the United Nations. Although largely powerless within Somalia, the government was initially courted by the militias as a way for them to win international legitimacy. At a one-day meeting in Sudan on June 22, the two groups agreed to recognize each other.
But the national government's alliance with Somalia's giant neighbor, Ethiopia, has angered the militias, who fear an attack, analysts say.
Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company