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Somalia's Islamist Forces Vacate Last Stronghold
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Somalia's Islamist Forces Vacate Last Stronghold



This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

In Somalia, the government forces have run out of battlefields. The Islamic Courts Unions, which was once in position to impose Shari'a law on the entire nation, appears to have fled its latest and last stronghold. Early today, Islamist fighters quit Kismayo, Somalia's second largest port. As in the case of Mogadishu last week, the Islamists had threatened the major fight with Somalia's transitional government and Ethiopian forces.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins joins us from Mogadishu. And, Gwen, tell us about this latest installment with Islamists fleeing Kismayo, what happened?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, there, you know, there was no fighting in Kismayo, which is what the Islamic Courts had threatened. They said that they were going to use Kismayo as their last redoubt. Of course, last week, they said they were going to use Mogadishu as their last redoubt. And so nothing really happened there. Kismayo fell very early this morning.

Now, there was some fighting in the town of Jilad(ph), which is just north of the city. And there are also reports that some Islamist fighters, these will be Somalis and Eritreans who were in league with the Somalis, are crossing the border into neighboring Kenya.

The transitional government in Ethiopia said last week that the Islamic Courts Union no longer exists, which at the time could have been construed as propaganda. But may be they were right, or at the very least, maybe they understood an apparent division within the ranks of the Islamic Courts.

BLOCK: Now, when you talk about divisions within the Islamic Courts, what would those be?

THOMPKINS: I talked with one reporter with the Islamic Courts who fought (unintelligible) early on the in the war. And she said that from the very beginning, the rank in file within the course were receiving conflicting messages. Now, the timing of the war was directly linked to an ultimatum that the Islamic Courts gave the Ethiopia. That was just before Christmas. And they said that the Ethiopians need to get out of Somalia by December 19th. Well, the Ethiopians didn't. And the war began. And in fact, the security minister of the Islamic Courts Union called for the war, he called on his forces to attack. And then he promptly left the country.

Now, he's isn't back, and so in this instance, what the Islamic Courts Union's fighters found was that they had a headless organization, now in the thick of battle. Things unraveled from there. And by the time the remnants of the organization got to the Kismayo area, they were divided between standing for a fight or making plans to leave. And from what we found out today, many of them decided to just leave by any means necessary.

BLOCK: And in the meantime, you now have the transitional government at least nominally in control of Somalia. What are they doing to strengthen their hold on the country?

THOMPKINS: Well, today, Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi gave the people of Mogadishu 72 hours beginning tomorrow, that's Tuesday, to disarm. After that he said the transitional government has the authority to take the weapons by force. One of the first orders of business when the Islamic Courts Union took over Mogadishu back in June was to disclose the city's gun market, which is fabled and large and extremely busy. And one of the consequences of the Islamic Courts Union receeding from Mogadishu is that that market has reopened.

In fact, all day long today, I've heard nothing but gunfire. And I don't - I can't honestly tell you why people are firing their guns. It might be because they're testing them. It might be for some more nefarious reason. But guns are back. When the Islamic Courts Union left town, they reportedly opened their armory and gave their guns to some of the most hostile subclans in town. And it's going to be very interesting to see whether the transitional government is going to be able to disarm those clans and whether it's going to be forced to use force in order to do so.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Gwen Thompkins speaking with us from Mogadishu, Somalia. Gwen, thanks very much.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Melissa.

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