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Residents Fleeing Militias in Somalia's Capital, Witnesses Say

Rival militias massed on the northern edge of Somalia's lawless capital Saturday, prompting hundreds to flee their homes amid fears of another surge of violence in this Horn of Africa country, witnesses said.

Islamic militias and a rival alliance of secular warlords signed a cease-fire last week after more than 140 people were killed in just eight days, but tensions remained high. Most of the casualties have been noncombatants caught in crossfire or killed by stray missiles.

Shiekh Nuur Salah, a local elder, said both sides sent reinforcements to the area.

"Militia movements from both sides were visible, that is why people are in fear," said Osman Geela, a nurse at a nearby hospital.

Somalia has been embroiled in recent weeks by some of the worst fighting in more than a decade. The fundamentalists portray themselves as capable of bringing order to the country, which has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The Islamic militia's growth in popularity and strength, and the possibility that they have outside support, is reminiscent of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

The secular alliance, which includes members of a U.N.-backed interim government but acts independently of it, accuses the Islamic militiamen of having ties to Al Qaeda. The Islamic group accuses the secularists of being puppets of the United States.