MOGADISHU, Somalia, (AP) – The last major warlord in Somalia surrendered his weapons and 200 militiamen to the army on Saturday, while an Islamic leader claimed responsibility for a string of guerrilla attacks and promised there would be more until the government agreed to talks.
In a major step toward helping the fledgling government consolidate power, one of the most feared warlords in Somalia, Mohamed Dheere, gave the army chief 23 trucks mounted with heavy weapons and ordered 220 of his fighters to report for retraining at government camps. The handover took place during a ceremony in Dheere’s stronghold of Jowhar, 55 miles north of Mogadishu, said Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman.
But fears of an Islamic fundamentalist insurgency grew following an ambush Saturday morning on a convoy of Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu. Late Friday, government troops repelled an attack on the Somali president’s palace.
The gunmen fired on the convoy but missed. The Ethiopians returned fire, killing a man and a woman on the side of the road, said Hawa Malin, a resident who witnessed the ambush. Two other people died on the way to the hospital, medical officials said.
“The Ethiopians shot me,” said Ali Kheyre Mumin, who was among three people wounded. “They shot at me and the others indiscriminately … they shot everybody who was moving around.”
On Saturday, a leader in Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts said his group was responsible for the attacks on the convoy and palace and promised that they would continue.
“This is a new uprising by the Somali people,” said Ahmed Qare, deputy chairman of the council. “The only solution can be reconciliation and talks between the transitional federal government and the Islamic courts.”
The internationally recognized government managed to drive the Islamic movement out of Mogadishu and much of the rest of southern Somalia, with key military backing from neighboring Ethiopia, which is often seen as a traditional rival.
The government has invited African peacekeepers, but they are unlikely to come if fighting continues. African Union officials approved an 8,000-peacekeeper mission on Friday, but African nations have yet to promise that many troops.