MOGADISHU, Somalia – Islamic militias and rival secular fighters signed a formal cease-fire Sunday under pressure from clan leaders — a deal intended to end eight days of fighting that has killed at least 142 people.
The chairman of the radical Islamic Court Union militias and a senior commander for the secular fighters agreed to stop the bloodletting after clan elders threatened to unleash their own combatants on whichever side was violating the cease-fire, leaders said.
Sporadic gunfire that rang across northern Mogadishu for most of Sunday ended after Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed signed the deal on behalf of the Islamic fighters and Nuur Daqle signed for the secular Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.
"We are not only accepting the cease fire today but we were always ready for it," said Hussein Gutale Ragheh, a spokesman for the alliance.
"We really hope this day will be the day that marks the start of a process for a better future ... mutual respect and peace in their city," said former President Ali Mahdi, who played a key role in efforts to ensure the warring sides agree to stop fighting.
But the two men refused to meet face-to-face to sign the agreement, underlying the degree of animosity between the two sides. Under the cease-fire deal, clan leaders will help the foes disengage combatants in the Sii-Sii neighborhood, the center of the clashes.
Fighting in Somalia traditionally has fallen largely along clan lines and has been economically motivated. But the current battle appears to be ideological — over whether Somalia should be governed by Islamic law — fueling what Mogadishu residents described as the worst fighting in more than a decade of lawlessness.
The battle for control of parts of the capital, Mogadishu, has forced thousands to flee their homes, left hundreds dead and wounded and sparked fears that the conflict could spread.
Most of the dead have been civilians caught in the crossfire. Fighters began looting some homes in between intense firefights throughout Friday, witnesses said.
At least 142 people have been killed and more than 280 people wounded in a week of fighting, doctors said. Hospitals are overwhelmed by casualties and the facilities are running out of medicine.
Neither side gained an upper hand in the latest round of fighting. The alliance accuses the Islamists of having ties to al-Qaida, while the Islamic group says the warlords are puppets of the United States.
The courts are popular in Mogadishu because in recent years they have provided the only form of order in parts of the city, although in the past they have always been divided along clan lines. They are also considered to be fighting for Somalia, not an outside force.
Islamic fundamentalists have portrayed themselves as an alternative capable of bringing order and peace to a country that has had no effective central government since 1991.
They have built up their forces as part of a campaign to install an Islamic government in Somalia — something opposed by warlords and a new interim government that has so far been unable to assert much authority because of infighting and insecurity.
The U.N.-backed transitional government has tried to assert control from Baidoa, 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of Mogadishu because the capital is considered unsafe. Some of the warlords behind the alliance are members of the transitional parliament, although they are fighting the Islamic group on their own.