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*Somalia: Battle for control of capital intensifies as rebels join forces(December 21st, 2010 )

Somalia: Battle for control of capital intensifies as rebels join forces

The Somali government’s control of a major part of the capital city Mogadishu may be short-lived as the merging of two of the major rebel forces vow to reclaim lost grounds in the battle for Somalia.

The two rebel groups al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam have had disagreements in the past but both support Sharia law and have now dropped their running feud and merged, it was revealed on Monday.

"The two groups have already shared ammunition, field clinics and fought together. But having a united leadership will mean the end of the puppet government and the African dogs [African Union troops]," Hizbul Islam’s head of operations Sheik Mohamed Osman Arus said in a statement.

Arus said the two militia groups will no longer waste resources fighting one another, and will instead concentrate on fighting the Mogadishu-based government and the African Union troops who protect it.

"We said to ourselves fighting al-Shabab will only lead to the Islamists’ downfall, as those apostates (the government and its backers) will take advantage of our weakness. So we decided to unite with al-Shabab and strengthen the Mujahedeen. We will advise those hardline elements in it from within," Arus said.

The two groups have not always seen eye to eye. Hizbul Islam has previously condemned al-Shabab’s use of suicide bombers, summary executions and al-Shabab’s public pledge of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

Reports claim that 22 Hizbul Islam leaders met in Mogadishu on Friday and Saturday and decided on joining al-Shabab. Hizbul Islam united with al-Shabab under its own terms because Hizbul Islam believed continued fighting would only degrade both organizations, giving "more power to the African Union, United Nations backed government.

Both groups however support a harsh and conservative reading of Islam that bans movies and TV, with sinners subsequently losing their hands, dying by stoning.

However, analysts say the merger may make the battle easier for the government and the African Union forces seeking to restore stability in the Horn of Africa country.

"It will be easier for the government to fight one group instead of fighting two different parties. The public got fed up with al-Shabab’s tactics, and now the government can present itself as the only option in the market of winning hearts and minds," Abdirahim Isse Adow, the director of the government-run Radio Mogadishu was quoted as saying.

Rashid Abdi, a Somali analyst with the International Crisis Group, downplayed the merging of both groups saying Hizbul Islam will be weakened by al-Shabab, and the union will not pose any serious military effect on the government. --Afrik

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