ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Somalia's prime minister told The Associated Press that war in the Horn of Africa is unavoidable because radicals control the Islamic movement that in recent months has taken over much of his country.
Prime Minister Ali Gedi indicated war was imminent, but said his government will continue to take part in all peace efforts. In the interview late Monday, he added that his government was preparing to defend itself against attacks by the Council of Islamic Courts, as the movement that has taken over most of southern Somalia is known.
"We have already mobilized our forces, we have trained a few thousand troops, they are ready," Gedi said during a visit to Ethiopia's capital. Ethiopia has backed Gedi's government, angering the Islamic movement that sees it as interference from Somalia's traditional rival.
Somali's rainy season is coming to an end and roads will be passable again for military vehicles in the next two weeks, he added. But Gedi said his forces would not attack the Islamic courts.
The United States has said the Islamic movement has links to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist group. Islamic leaders have repeatedly denied the accusation.
Gedi said the most radical leaders within the courts have taken control of the movement and they will not take peace talks seriously.
"They are the decision makers now," he added. "Those who believe that the situation in Somalia will be solved through dialogue and talks are wrong."
He said the Islamic forces included more than 3,000 foreign fighters, echoing similar statements made by a U.N. panel investigating violations of an arms embargo that has been in place since 1992, when the last effective central government in Somalia collapsed.
Gedi's internationally backed government is the 14th attempt to restore the rule of law in Somalia. But his parliament and Cabinet, made up of former warlords and civic leaders, has struggled to expand out of Baidoa, a key town 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu.
From within this power vacuum, a disparate group of Islamic leaders has banded together to create the Council of Islamic Courts, driving out warlords and installing clerical rule in the areas it now controls.
The international community has sponsored several rounds of peace talks to bring Gedi's government and the courts together. Gedi pointed out that after each round of talks, the Islamic courts returned to Mogadishu and dispatched troops to capture more territory, despite promises to stop their expansion.
Ethiopia has sent military advisers to Baidoa and has trained Somali troops to protect the government. On Friday, the United States introduced a U.N. resolution to partially lift the arms embargo on Somalia to allow for regional peacekeepers.
U.S. officials say that by providing the government with peacekeepers, the Islamic courts will have a greater incentive to pursue peace talks, rather than a military solution.
Gedi said his government needs international support in order to survive against what he calls the terrorist forces within the Islamic courts. He said the draft resolution should allow any country to provide troops to protect his government.
He said recent suicide bombings in Baidoa were contrary to Somali culture and proof that foreign fighters had come to Somalia.
The tactic of suicide bombing "was transferred to Somalia from elsewhere," Gedi said. "It will not stop in Somalia, it will spread out."
The United States has issued a travel advisory for Somalia's neighbors, Kenya and Ethiopia, warning that extremists in Somalia could launch suicide attacks in those countries.