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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
UN to assess security in Somalia
Islamic militia in Balad, 40kms north of Mogadishu
The militia and interim government hope to hold negotiations
The United Nations is sending a security team to Somalia later this week to meet Islamic leaders who control the capital, Mogadishu.

It will be the first formal contact between UN officials and the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia since the union captured much of south Somalia.

Earlier, the African Union agreed to send a separate team to assess the possibility of deploying peacekeepers.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991.

The deployment of any peacekeepers would require the UN to lift its arms embargo on Somalia.

The Islamic Courts fiercely oppose the idea and last week held large protests against peacekeepers.

World Cup fury

The UN special representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, said the meeting in Jowhar would help the UN better understand the Union of Islamic Courts.

There's a risk that if they [Islamist militias] move close to the border, the Ethiopians might react
UN envoy Francois Lonseny Fall

"We don't have a lot of information on the courts. We don't know exactly what their intentions are," he said.

Islamic Court leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed says their intention is to promote Islamic law, but denies they are like the Taleban.

But correspondents say there are signs that more radical elements may yet emerge and take control.

On Monday, against the orders of the leadership, Islamic militia shut down cinemas in Jowhar that were screening World Cup football, upsetting football fans.

"We ordered all the cinema hall in Jowhar to close temporarily. In principle, we are against watching of Western films," Islamic courts official Sheikh Ali Hassan told AFP news agency.

The government initially welcomed the Islamists' victory against warlords but the peacekeeper issue has divided them.

President Abdullahi Yusuf has set three conditions for talks:

  • The Islamic courts leave other towns they have seized and withdraw to Mogadishu
  • They recognise his government
  • They lay down their weapons

In return, the Islamists refuse to have talks until the government says it does not want foreign peacekeepers.

Distrust

Tension is high in Somalia, after the Islamists said Ethiopian troops had crossed the border - a claim the Ethiopians have denied.

UN envoy Mr Fall said that there were reports of troop movements on both sides of the Ethiopian border.

"There's a risk that if they [Islamist militias] move close to the border, the Ethiopians might react," he said.

Ethiopia has been mentioned as one of the countries that could send peacekeepers to Somalia, but Ethiopia is deeply distrusted by some Somalis.

Ethiopia is also seen as being close to President Yusuf and there are some unconfirmed reports that Ethiopian troops have been spotted in Baidoa, the town 200km north of Mogadishu, where his government is based.

During the 1990s, Ethiopia helped Mr Yusuf expel an Islamic group from the northern Puntland region that he controlled. He is due to be visiting Ethiopia on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists said it was alarmed by the brief detention in Baidoa of two journalists in connection with a report on the alleged Ethiopian incursion.

It says Radio Shabelle has been taken off air in the town after airing the report on Monday. It is still broadcasting in Mogadishu, where it is based.


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Men armed with guns roam Somalia's streets



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