African, Arab, European Officials Meet With Radical Islamic Group That Controls Somali Capital

Members of the radical Islamic group that controls the Somali capital met African, Arab and European officials Thursday and repeated their opposition to the deployment of peacekeepers to stabilize the lawless country.

"We believe that alien forces are both unnecessary and counterproductive," leaders of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council said in a written statement distributed to their visitors. "The Somali problem is a political one, and cannot be resolved by military means."

The Islamic group has organized several demonstrations against foreign troops.

A 21-member delegation from the African Union, Arab League, European Union and an east African organization was in Somalia to assess security conditions in the country ahead of possible deployment of peacekeepers. The force is intended to secure the weak, U.N.-backed transitional government that the Islamic group has challenged, help disarm at least 55,000 militia fighters in Somalia and train a new national army.

"They are not really happy with peacekeepers. We will take this message back to our headquarters" and the response will come from the African Union, Arab League, EU and east Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said Mohammed Affey, Kenya's ambassador to Somalia who led the delegation.

CountryWatch: Somalia

The Supreme Islamic Courts Council took Mogadishu in June and has expanded its control to much of southern Somalia, while the transitional government holds only one town, Baidoa, 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.

The African, Arab and European officials met leaders of the Islamic group a day after holding talks with the interim government, which has appealed for a peacekeeping force.

The peacekeeping proposal has been endorsed by the African Union and an east African regional group that led peace talks that produced a transitional government nearly two years ago.

"Such forces may have been needed in the long past, while the warlords were brutalizing the Somali people. However, the need has dissipated since they were removed from the scene," the Muslim leaders told the visiting officials.

The group "strongly propose that the issue of foreign troops be left for the Somalis to discuss" during power-sharing talks between the transitional government and the Muslim leaders on July 15 in neighboring Sudan's capital, Khartoum, the statement said.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since the warlords turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law. Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the vacuum, projecting themselves as an alternative military and political power.

They set up a militia force to enforce their interpretation of Islam and formed a court system that helped desperate Somalis settle disputes.

But the group has grown increasingly radical.

A recruiting video issued by its members and obtained by The Associated Press this week shows Arab radicals fighting alongside the local extremists in Mogadishu. And it invites Muslims from around the world to join in their "holy jihad."

The video, reminiscent of those produced by Islamic extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, provides the first hard evidence that non-Somalis have joined with Islamic extremists in Somalia. The group has repeatedly denied links to extremists such as al-Qaida.

Late Tuesday, radical Islamic militia fighters in central Somalia shot and killed two people at the screening of a banned World Cup soccer broadcast, an independent radio station reported.

The Islamic fighters, who have banned such entertainment, were dispersing a crowd of teenagers watching the match. They opened fire after the teenagers defied their orders to leave the hall in which a businessman was screening the Germany-Italy match on satellite television, Shabelle Radio reported Wednesday. It said the dead were a girl and the business owner.

The Islamic fighters have forbidden movies and television entertainment in line with their strict interpretation of Islam.