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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 03:40 GMT 04:40 UK
US 'will not talk' to Somali head
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys
Sheikh Aweys used to head an Islamic armed group
The US has said it will not deal with a new Somali leader whose Islamist militia holds much of southern Somalia.

The US has accused Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has been named as the head of a new legislative council, of ties to al-Qaeda - a charge he denies.

Mr Aweys has called for Islamic law to be imposed but a BBC correspondent says his colleagues have offered assurances they do not want a Taleban-style state.

The US has said it is willing to work with other leaders allied to Mr Aweys.

A state department spokesman said the US would wait and see how far the collective leadership of the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council, to which Mr Aweys belongs, was willing to work with the international community.

Mr Aweys' Islamist group is to hold talks with the weak interim government next month.

Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf strongly opposes political Islam.

The two groups last week agreed not to fight each other, amid fears of renewed conflict in Somalia, which has not had an effective national government for 15 years.

Stonings

Mr Aweys has said that the new Somali government should impose sharia law.

"Somalia is a Muslim nation and its people are also Muslim, 100% - therefore any government we agree on would be based on the holy Quran and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad," Mr Aweys told the AP news agency.

If strictly following my religion and love for Islam makes me a terrorist, then I will accept the designation
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys

He was speaking to the media for the first time since being named as head of the legislative council of the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council - the new name for the Union of Islamic Courts.

In the town of Jowhar, controlled by the Islamists, five people have gone on trial accused of serious offences such as rape and murder, for which they could be stoned to death if found guilty.

Stonings and amputations for thieves are not uncommon in areas run by the Islamic courts.

Mr Aweys is seen as being a hardliner, compared to the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who has led the group since its took control of the capital, Mogadishu, from an alliance of warlords.

Mr Ahmed is head of a new executive committee and it is not clear which man is more powerful.

Some correspondents speak of a power struggle between the two factions.

Mr Ahmed has said the group does not want political power.

US call

The US fears that a Somalia run by Islamists could be used by Islamic fighters linked to al-Qaeda.

Such fears will be heightened by the apparent promotion of a man who used to lead al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a group which the US described as "terrorist".

President Abdullahi Yusuf
President Yusuf (r) and Mr Aweys are former foes

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US would be troubled if Mr Aweys' promotion was an indication of the direction the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council was heading in.

But Mr Aweys told the AFP news agency he had never killed anybody.

"I am not a terrorist. But if strictly following my religion and love for Islam makes me a terrorist, then I will accept the designation."

President Yusuf defeated al-Itihaad in the 1990s, chasing it out of the northern region of Puntland, which he used to head.

The US is widely believed to have backed the defeated Mogadishu warlords, as part of its war on terror.

It has neither confirmed nor denied the reports but says it will support those working to prevent "terrorists" from setting up in Somalia.




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Why the US will not work with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys



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