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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Somali firms hand weapons to AU
AU peacekeeper picking up weapons
Somalia is awash with guns after years of anarchy
Influential Somali businessmen have surrendered weapons to African Union peacekeepers in the capital, Mogadishu.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan says the move is a boost to relations between locals and the AU troops.

The business community had set up its own security teams to protect their operations from rogue militiamen during Somalia's 16 years of lawlessness.

The interim government says it is in control of Mogadishu after weeks of fighting in which some 1,000 died.

The government says it has defeated Islamist fighters and some of the 400,000 people who fled last month's fighting have started returning to the capital.

Anti-terror law

Our correspondent in Mogadishu says 151 companies operating in the city have agreed to disarm and registered their weapons but only four gave their weapons in at a ceremony on Thursday.

Map of Somalia

Somalia's four major communication and money transfer companies were the first to hand over weapons.

"The companies handed over assault rifles, ammunition and rocket propelled grenades in bags and boxes to the African Union troops," our correspondent said.

The exercise was witnessed by Mogadishu Mayor Mohammed Omar Habeb Dhere and police chief Abdi Hassan Awale Keybdid, both once feared warlords.

"The process has started and these are not the only weapons, we urge all Somalis and other business people to voluntarily disarm," said AU force spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda.

Meanwhile, the parliament in Baidoa has approved a new anti-terrorism law that will allow life imprisonment, execution and confiscation of property of those found guilty of supporting "terrorists".

The United States has repeatedly accused the ousted Islamist administration of harbouring al-Qaeda operatives in Somalia.

The Islamists were ousted last December by Ethiopian-backed government forces.

Somalia has not had an effective national government for 16 years.

It has been fought over by various militias, leaving the country awash with guns.

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