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Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 18:35 UK

Islamists destroy Somali church

Map of Somalia

An Islamist group in Somalia has destroyed a derelict church in the southern port town of Kismayo, an eyewitness has told the BBC.

The destruction took place after prayers to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The al-Shabab group took control of Kismayo in fierce fighting last month.

They say they will build a mosque on the site of the colonial-era church, which has not been used for many years.

Almost the entire Somali population is Muslim. Some Christian groups have complained about persecution.

In 2005, an Islamist group dug up graves from an Italian colonial cemetery in the capital, Mogadishu, and built a mosque on the site.

An al-Shabab spokesman has said they wanted to destroy the church in retaliation for the destruction of a mosque in Ethiopia.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC Somali Service that a number of displaced families living in the church were not given prior warning that it was to be demolished.

Al-Shabab is fiercely opposed to the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

It refuses to take part in peace talks unless a deadline is set for them to leave the country.

The Ethiopians intervened in Somalia to help government forces oust Islamists two years ago.


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