Islamist fighters switch to Somali gov't side

13:45, October 14, 2009      

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Nearly 19 Islamist fighters including a senior commander from Hezbul Islam rebel movement on Tuesday defected to the Somali government, officials said.

The Islamist group of Hezbul Islam has lately been fighting Al-Shabaab, another radical Islamist rebel movement, over the controlof the southern port town of Kismayu.

"We have realized that we have been wrongly fighting the government and are now prepared to stand in defense of our people and country," Shuke Abdurrahman Odawa, a senior Islamist commander leading the defecting fighters told reporters.

Somali government officials who presented the fighters from the opposition group to the media said in a news conference in the presidential palace in Mogadishu that the government welcomed the fighters.

"We are very pleased that our brothers who considered us an enemy until yesterday are now with us and ready to defend the national flag," Security Minister Abdullahi Mohamed Sanbalolshe told reporters.

Sanbalolshe said the switchover by the opposition forces to the Somali government showed that Somalis can solve their differences among themselves "if left alone".

This was the first time that fighters and officials from the opposition joined the Somali government. The opposition groups sometimes presented what they say are Somali government forces and vehicles that defected to their side.

The Hezbul Islam insurgent group has not so far commented on the defection from their ranks at a time when the movement has been in bitter power struggle with its rival and former ally Al-Shabaab.

Rebels control much of southern and central Somalia while the Somali government backed by African Union peacekeeping forces runs small part of the chaotic coastal city of Mogadishu.

Source: Xinhua
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