THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Militants join Somali government

Associated Press / March 16, 2010

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somalia’s government signed an agreement with a powerful militia yesterday that offers high-level militants senior government positions in return for their support during a long-planned offensive against an Islamist insurgency.

The agreement gave the Ahlu-sunah Wal-jamea militia five ministries as well as diplomatic posts and senior positions within the police and intelligence services.

The militia holds several towns and districts in central Somalia. The weak UN-backed government barely clings to a few blocks of the capital of Mogadishu with the help of more than 6,000 African Union peacekeepers.

The government came under attack by insurgents again yesterday as both sides traded mortar and machine gun fire after the president returned from Dubai. Casualty figures were not immediately available. Scores were killed in fighting last week.

Sheikh Mohamed Dahir Hefow, the militia’s head, signed the deal with Somali Finance Minister Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden at a ceremony held at the African Union’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said at the signing ceremony that the deal was part of a larger reconciliation plan.

“With this agreement, the government of Somalia and Ahlu-sunah Wal-jamea have taken an essential step in the strategy toward restoring peace and stability to our beloved country,’’ he said. “It is a victory for peace and a cursed defeat for spoilers and extremist groups.’’

Analysts say Ahlu-sunah Wal-jamea militants have long enjoyed Ethiopian support, receiving money and weapons in return for trying to stop Somali Islamists from crossing the long, porous border into Ethiopia, where ethnically Somali rebels are fighting against Ethiopia’s government.