Oct 25, 2006

Somaliland: Islamist Militia in Somalia Intend to “Unify All Somali People”

Our main agenda is to seize Baidoa, then we will capture the Puntland and Somaliland regions," Islamist militia commander Turki said.

Somalia's Islamists said Tuesday they had stationed troops within 40 kilometres of Baidoa, the seat of the country's fragile interim government, and plan to seize the town. Islamist militia commander Hassan Abdulle Hersi, commonly known as Hassan Turki, did not say when the Islamists intend to attack Baidoa, but told reporters that the Islamists will move on to capture the semi-autonomous Puntland region and breakaway republic Somaliland to create a "unified" Somalia.

"Our forces advanced to Baidoa, and we are 40 kilometres away. Our main agenda is to seize Baidoa, then we will capture the Puntland and Somaliland regions," Turki said. "We want to achieve a unified Somalia," which includes Somali- speaking areas of neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Turki did not say how many troops are positioned near Baidoa, but senior-level Islamist military commanders told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa that around 1,200 soldiers have gathered. The government's information minister, Ali Ahmed Jama Jangali, said it would retaliate on any attack by "jihadists."

The Islamists have accused Ethiopia of sending troops to protect the weak government in the provincial capital Baidoa. Ethiopia has admitted sending military trainers to the government, but denied deploying soldiers.

The Islamists, who have been waging a successful campaign of territorial expansion across central and southern Somalia since June, are set to meet the transitional government for a third round of peace talks next week in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Despite both sides accusing the other of violating partial peace agreements, Turki said the Islamists will attend the peace talks, but that they "will not be fruitful."

The Horn of Africa country has been without strong central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator plunged the country into anarchy. The third round of peace talks is seen as crucial, as a power- sharing agreement between the internationally-backed government and the Islamists is to be discussed for the first time.