Islamists abandon last stronghold in Somalia

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Somali government troops backed by Ethiopian soldiers have taken over what had been the last stronghold of the country's militant Islamic movement.

To cheering and waving crowds, the troops drove into Kismaayo after clearing roads set with land mines. Earlier, the Islamic fighters had abandoned the southern coastal city, fleeing a 13-day military onslaught by government troops backed by Ethiopian tanks and MiG warplanes.

"We have entered and captured the city," Maj Gen Ahmed Musa said.

Somalia's Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, offered an amnesty to the hundreds of Islamic fighters fleeing south toward the Kenyan border, 100 miles away.

But, he said, leaders of the Islamic group and the foreign fighters believed to be among their ranks will face justice.

He ordered a countrywide disarmament to come into effect today, a major task in Somalia, which is awash with weapons after 15 years of anarchy. The Prime Minister said that Somalia's infamous warlords and clan militias must also abide by the order to give up their weapons.

Mr Gedi also appealed for humanitarian aid for his country and repeated his calls for an African Union peacekeeping force.

Among the Islamic fighters are believed to be three al-Qa'ida suspects wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies. The Somali government hopes to catch them before they slip out of the country and has asked the USto provide air and sea surveillance to aid in their search.

In Kismaayo, hundreds of gunmen who apparently deserted from the Islamic movement began looting warehouses where the Council of Islamic Courts had stored supplies, including weapons and ammunition.