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Islamic leader urges 'Greater Somalia'
MOHAMED OLAD HASSSAN
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The leader of the Islamic group that controls much of southern Somalia has revived the idea of a "Greater Somalia" that would incorporate regions of Kenya and Ethiopia - a move that could further stoke tensions with the neighboring countries.
Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, chairman of the Council of Islamic Courts, told Shabelle Radio in an interview late Friday that his group would work to unite ethnic Somali peoples, but he did not say how it proposed to achieve a "Greater Somalia."
This is the first time that Aweys has spoken about expanding the influence of the Islamic courts outside Somalia since his group seized control of the capital, Mogadishu, in June and then consolidated its control over most of southern Somalia.
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"We will leave no stone unturned to integrate our Somali brothers in Kenya and Ethiopia and restore their freedom to live with their ancestors in Somalia," he said.
After present-day Somalia was formed in 1960 from Italian and British colonies, the country's leaders began pushing for the unity of all Somali-speaking peoples. Somalis live in Djibouti, northeastern Kenya and eastern Ethiopia.
Somalia launched an invasion of Ethiopia in 1977, which was quickly repelled. Since then, Somali nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists have continued to advocate the idea of a "Greater Somalia," and a minor ethnic-Somali insurgency continues in eastern Ethiopia.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. A government was formed with the help of the United Nations two years ago, but it controls just one town.
Experts have warned that the country has become a proxy battleground for Somalia's neighbors, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
A confidential U.N. report obtained last month by The Associated Press said 6,000-8,000 Ethiopian troops are in or near Somalia's border with Ethiopia, backing the interim government. The report also said 2,000 troops from Eritrea are inside Somalia supporting the Islamic courts.
On Nov. 2, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, issued a warning saying Somali extremists were threatening suicide attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia. Somalia's Islamic militia denied they planned any such attacks.
A U.N. panel charged with monitoring the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia said in a report obtained Wednesday by the AP that 10 countries, including Ethiopia and Eritrea, had provided weapons, money and training to armed groups in Somalia.
The four-member panel based their report on their own investigations, interviews and material supplied by embassies in Nairobi. Several of the countries have denied the allegations.
The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, said Saturday there was ample information that foreign countries were providing weapons to Somalia. He would not comment specifically on the U.N. report, although he said it was "generally known Eritrea is involved."
"We do have reliable information that arms are flowing into Somalia from a number of different sources," Ranneberger told The Associated Press in Kapenguria, Kenya.
Eritrea's information minister, Ali Abdu, said Saturday the allegations were "absurd."
Associated Press Writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from Kapenguria, Kenya.