Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 16:18 UK

Somalia militant warns of war

Sheik Aweys
Sheikh Aweys says he has taken over Somalia's main Islamist group

An Islamist leader in Somalia says he will step up an insurgency against his country's government after taking control of an opposition alliance.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys told the BBC that he wants to oust the Ethiopian forces protecting Somalia's weak transitional government.

He made the comments after claiming control of the exiled Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS).

He said he had replaced Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as leader.

Mr Aweys said a ceasefire agreement with the Somali government signed by Mr Ahmed had no effect.

But his claim of control over the opposition alliance has been rejected by moderate Islamists.

Mr Aweys is the founder of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that ruled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian forces backed by Somali government troops.

He has been accused by the US of links to al-Qaeda.

The UIC has been divided into moderates, led by Mr Ahmed, and hardline militants, led by Mr Aweys.

Last month Mr Ahmed signed a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement in Djibouti that was meant to pave the way for power-sharing.

It was rejected by Mr Aweys.

'No dialogue'

In what has been seen as a political takeover at the Islamists' headquarters in exile in Eritrea, Sheikh Aweys says that he has assumed the leadership from Sheikh Sharif following a vote.

"We said no dialogue or agreement with that government until we kick the enemy out of Somalia and the government with them," Mr Aweys told the BBC.

The BBC's David Bamford says that whether this latest development leads to a further reinvigoration of the anti-Ethiopian campaign or leads to factional fighting between rival Islamists depends how favourably the leadership coup by Mr Aweys is received.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the current fighting threatens to wreck all efforts to resolve a humanitarian emergency that could soon rival Somalia's famine in the early 1990s.

According to one estimate, more than 8,000 civilians have been killed and one million forced from their homes since the start of last year by fighting between the interim government and Islamist insurgents.

Somalia has experienced almost constant civil conflict since the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre's regime in January 1991.

Successive droughts have left an estimated 2.5 million in need of food aid.

The UN expects that figure to rise sharply if droughts and insecurity continue.


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