Islamist militias clash in Somalia as Ethiopian troops withdraw

As 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers depart, militia groups are battling to take more control from the weak transitional government.

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Fierce fighting between rival Islamist militias left at least 25 dead in central Somalia on Sunday, as a struggle for the heart of this war-torn nation rages in the power vacuum left by departing Ethiopian troops.

The BBC reports that the hard line Al Shabab – regarded by the United States as a terrorist group – faced off against a "local militia," killing 30 and injuring at least 30 more. The fighting took place in Guriel, 310 miles north of the capital, Mogadishu.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) put the number of wounded at more than 50. It identified Al Shabab's rivals as members of the more moderate group, the Ahlu Sunna Wal-jamaah. It said the two rival militias had already battled several times in December in a struggle for control of Guriel.

Garowe Online, the website of a radio station based in northern Somalia, reported that the fighting broke out around 5:30 a.m. Sunday when Al Shabab forces attacked a checkpoint manned by the moderate group. It claimed the moderates are warlords who are funded and armed by Ethiopia.

Voice of America reports that some Somalis were celebrating after Al Shabab's apparent defeat in Sunday's skirmish. It quoted a senior officer of the moderate militia, Sheik Abdulkarim Risak, as saying his group is determined to drive Al Shabab out of the country.

According to Mr. Risak, many of Al Shabab's men were foreign fighters, possibly from Southeast Asia.

In an interview published Saturday, Reuters quoted Somali interim president Sheikh Aden Madobe as saying Al-Shabab is the "biggest threat" to Somalia. He also said Somali troops were not ready to take over security duties from the departing Ethiopians.

Mr. Madobe said Somalia would select a new president at the end of the month in a conference in Djibouti. Meanwhile, Reuters reported, the African Union is urging member countries to fulfill promises of sending more troops to help bring stability to Somalia.

A commentary in last week's Economist called Somalia "Africa's most utterly failed state" and warned that the security situation could go from bad to worse with the departure of the 3,000 Ethiopian troops.

Last week, two World Food Program relief workers were shot dead by gunmen, according to the Associated Press.

In its latest report on Somalia, the International Crisis Group urged the international community to accept that Islamist insurgents must be given a place at the negotiating table. It said the high-profile fight against pirates in shores off Somalia had distracted the world from addressing the roots of Somalia's instability.

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