MOGADISHU (AFP) – Islamic militia has seized control of a strategic township near the Ethiopian border from Somalia’s transitional government, further expanding their territory.
There were no reported casualties in the clash, which saw only a brief exchange of fire around 7:00 am (0400 GMT) Wednesday.
Islamic militia commander Yusuf Makaraan said his fighters took control of Beledweyne, the capital of Hiraan region 300 kilometres (190 miles) north of Mogadishu, after the Ethiopia-backed, government-appointed governor Yusuf Ahmed Hagar allegedly fled to
“We have full control of Beledweyne,” Makarran told AFP by telephone.
“The governor fled and we captured one battlewagon — a pickup truck mounted (with) a machine gun — from his fleeing forces,” he added.
“People closed their business centers and are very much concerned that likely renewed clashes between Islamists and Yusuf Hagar clan members” might resume, said resident Mumin Derow.
The growing influence of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS), which controls much of southern Somalia including the capital Mogadishu, has threatened the authority of the transitional government based in Baidoa, about 250 kilometres (155 miles)
northwest of the capital.
The brief clashes in Beledweyne, which links southern Somalia to the agriculturally-rich central regions, came after Hagar refused to formally hand over control to the Islamists.
Local cleric Sheikh Farah Moalim formed Islamic tribunals in Beledweyne after the Islamists took much of southern Somalia from US-backed warlords in June, attracting several civilians but Hagar refused to join them, officials said.