Islamic militias and a self-styled "anti-terrorism" alliance of warlords on Sunday signed a formal truce deal, aimed at ending eight days of fighting that has claimed more than 140 lives in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Sporadic gunfire that rang across northern Mogadishu for most of Sunday ended after the deal, signed by Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, chairman of the radical Islamic Court Union militias, and Nuur Daqle, a senior commander of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter terrorism.
The two sides agreed to stop the bloody skirmishes after clan elders, who have been acting as mediator, warned that they would unleash their own combatants on whichever side was violating the cease-fire.
However, the two men refused to meet face-to-face to sign the agreement, underlying the degree of animosity between the warring sides.
"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.
Under the cease-fire deal, clan leaders will help the foes disengage combatants in the Sii-Sii neighborhood, the center of the clashes.
The fighting has escalated steadily since May 7, when Islamic extremists and US-backed warlords took up strategic positions in Mogadishu.
At least 142 people have been killed and more than 280 people wounded in the past few days. Most of the dead are civilians caught in the crossfire.
Many Somalis accuse the United States of backing the alliance of warlords and Washington has long viewed Somalia, without an effective central government since 1991, as a terrorist haven.
The United States has not confirmed or denied backing the warlords but says it would "work with responsible individuals in fighting terror."
Neither side gained an upper hand in the latest bout of fighting. The alliance accuses the Islamists of having links to al-Qaida, while the Islamic group says the warlords are puppets of the United States.
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 the eastern African country should be governed by Islamic law.
The latest clashes are the second round of Mogadishu's most serious fighting in a decade.
In March, over 100 people died in Mogadishu's worst battles in years between militias linked to the Islamic Court Union, which has recently restored order to some parts of Mogadishu by providing justice under Sharia, Islamic law, and those tied to the anti-terrorism coalition, comprising most of the capital's powerful warlords.
(Xinhua News Agency May 15, 2006)