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Somalian militants close in on Baidoa

Islamic fighters are poised outside the southern town, the seat of the transitional government.

October 26, 2006|From the Associated Press

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — Government forces began digging trenches on the outskirts of their base Wednesday, witnesses said, as the Islamic militias that control much of the country cut off fuel supplies to the area.

A top Islamic Courts Union official, Hassan Turki, said the militias planned to attack Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government and the only town in the south under its control. He did not give details.

"We will attack Baidoa and many other areas because our aim is to implement Islamic rule throughout Somalia," he told HornAfrik Radio.

But Abdirahman Janaqow, another top Islamic courts official, denied that there were plans to attack Baidoa.

Thousands of fighters from both sides are reported to be within striking distance of each other.

The government forces have taken defensive positions 11 miles outside the city. Islamic militiamen have moved within the last 24 hours to Moode Moode, 12 miles outside Baidoa, said Gedow Awale Golade, a businessman in the region.

Fuel supplies to Baidoa, 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu, were stopped Monday, sending prices soaring by a third, another businessman said.

Authorities in Baidoa arrested three Somalian journalists Monday because they filmed Ethiopian troops and government forces outside the town, Baidoa Police Chief Aaden Biid said Wednesday.

Ethiopia and the transitional Somalian government have denied there are Ethiopian troops in the country, only saying that Somalia's western neighbor has sent military trainers to help the government form a national army. The issue is sensitive because the two countries are traditional rivals.

But government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say about 6,000 Ethiopian troops are in the country or encamped on the 990-mile border.

Somalia in effect has been without a national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, creating anarchy.

The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order, but it has been unable to assert its authority beyond Baidoa.

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