Somalia's Islamic Courts widening their powers have reached Afmadow district in Lower Jubba region, southern Somalia.
Sheik Hassan al-Turki was leading more battlewagons and forces when they arrived at Afmadow and was warmly received by elders and intellectuals in the area.
Islamic Courts grabbed the port city of Kismayu, 500 km northwest of the capital Mogadishu, late last month, temporarily imposing curfew on the town as they faced rioters against them.
Ibrahim Shukri, the Islamic Courts spokesperson in Lower Jubba region had confirmed to Shabelle Radio in Mogadishu that Islamic Courts forces peacefully captured Afmadow, about 170 km south of Kismayu that is now under Islamist control.
The Islamist said the population in Afamadow had been waiting for the Islamic Courts arrival and had always been supportive to them [Islamists].
The Islamists indicated previously that they would impose the Islamic law on all parts of the country they control.
Hassan al-Turki in charge of Dhobley district near the Kenyan border has reportedly stationed more of his followers at the border to make sure foreign peacekeepers do not cross into Somalia.
The narcotic "Khad" leafs that was banned during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has been entering southern parts of Soamlia through the Kenyan border, but Islamist imposed weighty taxes on Khad and cigarettes to discourage buyers chewing the Khad or smoking cigarette.
The chairman of Afmadow Sheik Mohamood Omar delivered a speech to a large audience who assembled at the main square of the district, assuring them that Afmadow administration was ready to collaborate with the Islamic Courts.
The federal government based in Baidoa criticized Islamists for spreading out and extorting new lands by even attempting to overpower the government.
The Islamic Courts supreme leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys denied any Islamist desire of overrunning the powerless government.
Senior UN Envoy Begins Seven-Nation Tour to Promote Peace
Starting a seven-nation mission to promote peace and reconciliation in Somalia, the top United Nations envoy for the war-torn east African country today visited neighbouring Ethiopia to discuss the next round of peace talks between the rival Somali factions.
Acting on recommendations contained in a Security Council presidential statement of 13 July, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonsény Fall, also plans to visit Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen for consultations with their leaders.
"Among the most critical issues on Ambassador Fall's agenda is the third round of the Khartoum peace talks scheduled for 30 October between the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) based in Baidoa and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) established in Mogadishu," the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) said in a statement.
The last round of talks between the rival sides took place at the beginning of last month in an effort to bring peace to the impoverished drought-afflicted country, which has been riven by factional fighting and has not had a functioning national government since President Muhammad Siad Barre's regime was toppled in 1991.
Mr. Fall had separate meetings today with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security Said Djinnit. In August he said his office had been informed by UIC Executive Council Chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed that Ethiopian troops were in Somalia but it had no monitoring capacity on the ground to confirm the charge.
Mr. Fall will travel to Asmara tomorrow for talks with the Eritrean Government. He is scheduled to visit Djibouti and Yemen next week, before holding talks with leaders in Uganda, Sudan and Egypt prior to the Khartoum talks. Included in his Cairo schedule will be discussions with officials from the Arab League.
Kenya Having Second Thoughts On Supporting Somalia
Kenya seems to be reconsidering its support for the ineffectual Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia following the steady territorial expansion by the Union of Islamic Courts.
But at the same time, the Kenya government would prefer to keep the Islamic Courts at arm's length for the moment, at least diplomatically.
While top government officials maintain that Kenya is on a diplomatic offensive to help the TFG function and put the Somalia question on the world agenda, sources say Kenya's previously unwavering support for the interim government is being reviewed in the light of unfolding events in Somalia.
They cite last week's incident in which Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi failed to meet Kenya's Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, Moses Wetang'ula, after waiting for some time at the Foreign Affairs office.
Those conversant with diplomatic protocol interpreted the incident as a snub, but Mr Wetang'ula maintained that the media was reading too much into the incident.
He explained that Mr Gedi, having requested an urgent meeting, had to be fitted in between other appointments, but when his meeting with the Italian ambassador took too long, Mr Gedi rushed off to honour a scheduled appointment with the African Union ambassadors.
"We have demonstrated goodwill toward the TFG and the Islamic courts by flushing out the warlords and banning others from entering Kenya. We have midwifed the peace process and helped translocate the interim government. What more can we do other than to engage in a diplomatic offensive to clear the bottlenecks that have impeded the performance of the TFG?" he asked.
Besides the question as to whether Kenya still believes in the relevance of TFG, the country seems to have executed a climbdown on the burning issue of the deployment of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) peacekeepers to Somalia, after its previous stand raised diplomatic tensions.
Initially, Kenya, through Foreign Affairs Minister Raphael Tuju, was categorical that the only solution to the Somali problem was to send in Igad peacekeepers, even without the consent of the Union of Islamic Courts.
This position, in the eyes of the Islamic Courts, portrayed Kenya as having closed ranks with Ethiopia, which has been campaigning for the deployment of Igad troops. This threatened to rob Kenya of its image as an honest and trusted broker of the Somali peace process.
Of late, Kenya seems to be backtracking on the issue of the deployment of Igad troops, even as it maintains its support for TFG as the internationally recognised authority.
While addressing the UN General Assembly last Tuesday, Mr Tuju appealed for humanitarian intervention as opposed to military intervention, while at the same time coming up with a new proposal for the formation of a joint committee comprising neighbouring countries, the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union and prominent members of the Security Council.
Mr Wetang'ula last week clarified that Kenya still believes that the deployment of Igad troops is necessary, but only with the concurrence of concerned parties, otherwise they stand the risk of being seen as invaders.
But what created suspicion between the Kenya government and the Islamic Courts was the visit to Kenya early September by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for talks with President Mwai Kibaki over the deployment of Igad troops in Somalia.
It gave the impression - in the eyes of the Islamic Courts - that Kenya had been won over by Ethiopia into agreeing to the deployment of Igad troops in Somalia without consultations with the Islamic Courts. Consequently, the Islamic Courts were conspicuously absent from the September 5 Igad meeting that resolved to send troops to Somalia, despite the fact the chairman of the Courts, Sheikh Shariif Ahmed, was in the country.
But last week, Mr Wetang'ula defended the Kibaki/Meles consultations, arguing that, apart from the Somali issue, Kenya and Ethiopia have many bilateral issues to settle.
As Mr Wetang'ula put it, "Of course, the Somalia issue had to come up given that President Kibaki is the current chairman of Igad, and both Ethiopia and Kenya have their concerns as the frontline states. As a demonstration that Kenya has not abandoned its neutrality, we have offered not to send Kenyan troops to Somalia as per the earlier mutual agreement that frontline states should keep out of the force."
The tricky issue currently is whether Kenya has fully recognised the Islamic Courts as the central players in the resolution of the Somali question.
Mr Wetang'ula made it clear that Kenya, Igad and the TFG are worried about the unfolding scenario of territorial expansion, which could easily precipitate other unilateral actions to protect the TFG - a tacit reference to unconfirmed reports that Ethiopian troops have entered Baidoa.
According to the chairman of the Ford-People party, Farah Maalim Mohammed, the Islamic Courts have bent over backwards to assure Kenyans that they have no territorial design on Kenya, and that they admire Kenya's democracy and social order.