Moderate Islamists seize town from Somali insurgents

January 29th, 2009 - 10:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Mogadishu, Jan 29 (DPA) A moderate Somali Islamist group Thursday seized control of a second town from main insurgent group al-Shabaab as the groups battle to fill gaps left by the departure of Ethiopian troops.The fighting came as internationally backed plans to form a unity government and elect a new president gathered pace.

The government-aligned Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaca attacked the central town of Dhusamareb in the morning, Somali news portal reported.

At least five people were killed and 20 injured in the fighting, which also caused hundreds of residents to flee.

Al-Shabaab, which has been waging a bloody insurgency since early 2007, Monday took over Baidoa, the seat of the Somali parliament, just hours after Ethiopian troops, who had been propping up the central government for two years, left the country.

The group controls large swathes of Somalia and is pushing to seize complete control of southern and central Somalia.

However, it has faced fierce opposition from Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaca, which accuses al-Shabaab of killing civilians and desecrating graves.

The moderate group has already taken over the town of Guriel from al-Shabaab, which the US says has links to Al Qaeda.

Despite the fighting, political moves are still ongoing to create a larger national parliament and elect a new president.

Somali MPs, meeting in neighbouring Djibouti Monday, voted to double the number of seats in parliament from 275.

Many of the 200 new MPs from moderate opposition group the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) were sworn in Wednesday and the rest were expected to follow suit Thursday.

Another 75 seats have been set aside to be allocated to members of civil society and other opposition parties at a later date. The MPs are also expected to appoint a new president Friday.

The UN is hoping that the creation of a unity government will help bring an end to the chaos that has plagued Somalia since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The internal conflict, combined with drought and rising food prices, has created a humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa nation, where some 3.25 million people, almost half the population, are dependent on food aid.

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