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Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 18:10 UK

Call to blockade Somali Islamists

Islamist fighter at a checkpoint
Islamists have had little trouble getting hold of weapons

Somalia's neighbours have called for the UN to impose a blockade on air strips and sea ports to prevent Islamists getting weapons and fighters.

The emergency meeting of East Africa's Igad grouping also called for sanctions to be imposed on Eritrea, which denies charges it arms Islamist forces.

Igad officials want the international warships off the Somali coast hunting pirates to enforce the sea blockade.

Islamists have gained ground recently and control much of the south.

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) said a recent upsurge in fighting which had killed hundreds of people and forced thousands from their homes has been "exacerbated by an influx of foreign armed aggressors".

Leaders of the Islamist al-Shabab group have admitted having links to al-Qaeda and global jihadists.

Child killed

The Islamist-controlled ports of Kismayo and Merca should be subject to a blockade "to prevent the further in-flow of arms and foreign fighters", said an Igad statement said after a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

They also want flights halted to the numerous air strips under Islamist control.

They stress, however, that government approved humanitarian flights should be allowed to continue.

SOMALI CRISIS
map
3m need food aid - a third of the population
1m fled their homes
No government since 1991

Somalia has been subject to a UN arms embargo for many years but weapons are still freely available in the Mogadishu weapons market.

Eritrea is suspended from Igad and could now be barred from the African Union.

"There is incontrovertible evidence that Asmara and Eritrea is involved in arming, training, recruiting and supplies to the insurgents in Somalia," Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told the BBC.

In addition to Eritrea, analysts say that weapons also reach Somalia from Yemen.

Islamist forces attacked an African Union peacekeeping base overnight, leading to two hours of fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in the city says many shells fell in residential areas and at least three civilians were killed, including a six-year-old child.

The Western-backed government only controls parts of the capital and a few pockets of territory elsewhere.

Some 4,000 AU peacekeepers are in the city, backing the administration of moderate Islamist President Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed.

A recent upsurge in fighting has forced some 43,000 people to flee their homes in less than two weeks, the UN says.

Islamist fighters on Sunday seized the strategic town of Jowhar.

On Tuesday, eyewitnesses told the BBC that Ethiopian troops had returned to Somalia, four months after leaving.

They had helped government forces oust Islamists from Mogadishu in 2006 but withdrew in January under a UN-brokered peace deal.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991 and years of fighting have left some three million people - a third of the population - needing food aid.



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