MOGADISHU, Somalia — Ethiopian-backed government forces captured the last remaining stronghold of the Islamic movement in southern Somalia, the Somali defense minister said Friday, hours after warlords met with the president and promised to enlist their militiamen in the army.
The southern town of Ras Kamboni fell after five days of heavy fighting, Defense Minister Col. Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire told The Associated Press.
He said government troops backed by Ethiopian forces and MiG fighter jets chased fleeing Islamic fighters into nearby forests and the fighting would continue. He did not give casualty figures.
Ras Kamboni is in a rugged coastal area a few miles from the Kenyan border. It is not far from the site of a U.S. airstrike Monday targeting suspected al-Qaida militants.
The report of the town's fall came after Somalia's warlords met with President Abdullahi Yusuf in the capital of Mogadishu and pledged to disarm their militias, a major step toward bringing calm to this city after years of chaos.
Outside the peace talks, however, a clan fight over parking left at least six people dead.
Boy soldiers among the hidden in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Interviews with boys as young as 14 who said they fought in the recent weeks of violence in Somalia lend credence to accusations that children have been recruited for battle in this chaotic Horn of Africa nation.
Two months later, the Islamic militia has been driven from power and an unknown number of young soldiers like Ahmed are hiding in and around the capital, some of them wounded and too frightened to leave their homes.
The government and the Islamic movement have denied recruiting child soldiers, but Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF ‘s Somalia representative, said Friday that witness accounts suggest otherwise.
The teenager spoke on condition that he not be photographed for fear of reprisals from the government, which with the help of Ethiopian troops drove the Islamist movement from the capital. He also fears Somalis who resent the strict interpretation of Islam that had been imposed by the Islamic movement, known as the Council of Islamic Courts.
He added that it was impossible to estimate the number of young soldiers due to continuing volatility in Somalia. The U.N. estimates 300,000 child soldiers are involved in conflicts worldwide, and child soldiers have fought in many African wars.
In a statement Friday, UNICEF and Save the Children demanded "that all children associated with armed forces or groups must be immediately released from their ranks, or from detention centers where they might currently be held."
The Islamic courts seized control of the capital and much of the south six months ago, bringing a semblance of stability but terrifying residents with threats of public executions and floggings of criminals.
Leaders of Somalia‘s Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq -style guerrilla war, and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden ‘s deputy has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on Ethiopian troops.
"Unfortunately I got a bullet in my left hand, but I wanted to die for the defense of my religion," he said. Osman, whose hand was bandaged, said he was recruited at a mosque near his house.
"We were sitting near our homes in Mogadishu and (they) came to us and asked if we were good Muslims," said Hassan Abdi Haji, 15, dressed in a black T-shirt and sipping an orange soda. "They gave us rifles and said they would come back with uniforms."
Before the recruiters could return, Somali and Ethiopian forces ousted the Islamists from the capital.
"We threw the guns away," Haji said, adding: "Then we called our parents."