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Islamists Claim Capture of Ethiopian Officer in Somalia
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Somalia's Islamic courts claimed Tuesday they had captured an Ethiopian officer after heavy fighting against pro-government militia in which more than 50 were killed, according to reports reaching Nairobi Tuesday.

The Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) fighters said they captured the officer on Sunday in clashes that killed at least 51 people, 48 from the Juba Valley Alliance (JVA) militia and three Islamists.

SCIC Spokesman Sheikh Shukri Abraham told a news conference in Kismayo town, the capital of lower Jubba region, the wounded Ethiopian officer was seized after 26 hours of fighting between Islamic fighters and militia loyal to Somalia's defense minister.

The claim came a day after the Islamists' supreme leader called for the start of a "jihad," or holy war, against Ethiopia, which is alleged to have sent troops to support the Somali government.

"We have arrested an Ethiopian officer," Shukri said but did not identify the captured Ethiopian soldier.

Ethiopian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Ethiopia has denied sending fighters to Somalia but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has admitted sending military trainers to Somalia's transitional government.

The deteriorating situation in the country threatens to hamper a planned third round of Arab League-mediated peace talks between the government and the Islamists set to begin on Nov. 2 in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

Both sides had threatened to boycott the meeting, but last week the Islamists said they were ready to attend without conditions.

Both sides have accused the other of violating terms of a partial peace deal. A power-sharing agreement is seen as the only way to restore strong central rule to Somalia.

Somalia has been without a functioning central administration since 1991 and the government, formed in neighboring Kenya in 2004, has been wracked by infighting and unable to assert control over much of the country.

(Xinhua News Agency October 25, 2006)


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