Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Somalia on the Edge of Full-Scale War ; Islamists Are Calling for Fierce Resistance against Ethiopian Troops in the Country

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Somalia on the Edge of Full-Scale War ; Islamists Are Calling for Fierce Resistance against Ethiopian Troops in the Country

Article excerpt

Peace talks aimed at avoiding civil war in Somalia were officially postponed Monday following a week of high-risk brinkmanship and heightened rhetoric from emboldened Islamic militias and the country's weak transitional government.

One side and then the other refused to attend talks that were due to restart Saturday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, each accusing their adversary of hostile intentions.

The latest sticking point is the arrival of Ethiopian troops to bolster the government's shaky defenses at its headquarters in the provincial town of Baidoa.

Islamist leaders responded with a call to Somalia to wage jihad, or holy war, against foreign fighters and organized a rally of more than 3,000 people in the capital Mogadishu to protest their arrival.

John Prendergast, a senior adviser with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says the flurry of moves leaves the country on a "precipice."

"I think both sides - particularly the Islamists - are throwing a few jabs, to use a boxing analogy, testing each other to see how far the other will go in advance of any talks, if they should happen," he says.

A complete breakdown in negotiations could spark a major regional conflict.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991, despite more than a dozen attempts to find peace between the assortment of warlords who carved the Horn of Africa nation into a series of personal fiefdoms.

Last month the Union of Islamic Courts seized control of the capital, Mogadishu, ousting a hated coalition of armed strongmen who allegedly received backing from the US.

Their victory sent shockwaves around regional capitals that do not want to see an Islamic state on their doorstep, and raised concerns in Western countries that Somalia could become a haven for Al Qaeda.

Since then the Islamic movement has replaced its moderate leader with a hard-liner, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is accused by the US of having links to terrorists groups - accusations he denies.

Islamist militiamen have fanned out across the country, imposing Islamic law on towns under their control and pinning down the government in its Baidoa headquarters. …

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