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Somalia Dispatches Rescue Squad

January 7, 2001

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Somalia’s shaky new government has dispatched dozens of heavily armed men to rescue the parliament speaker and several other officials who have been in hiding since they were ambushed by an anti-government militia, a local official said Sunday.

The government force, made up of local gunmen, left late Saturday from Beletuein, 85 miles northeast of Tieglow, where the deadly ambush took place hours earlier, said Abdulwahab Abdullahi Omar, a businessman and elder in Beletuein.

The force will not attack the Rahanwein Resistance Army gunmen who ambushed the officials, but instead will wait for them to make their way to El-Ali, a village 37 miles east of Tieglow, and meet them there, Omar said in a telephone interview.

Parliament speaker Abdalla Derow Issak, Higher Education Minister Mohamed Ali Kalay and at least seven legislators were attacked by more than 200 RRA gunmen outside Tieglow, 185 miles northwest of Mogadishu. The speaker’s armed escort of more than 100 men was overwhelmed by the RRA gunmen, who had 15 trucks fitted with anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns.

At least nine people were killed and dozens injured in the attack.

Witnesses told The Associated Press that Issak and the other officials managed to escape and spent the night at a farm 17 miles from Tieglow. From there, they were said to be walking to El-Ali, where they were to meet up with the rescuers. The two groups were believed to be contacting each other by radio.

Saturday’s attack was the latest setback for the new national government led by President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, who has been facing stiff resistance from armed groups since he was elected at a national reconciliation conference in neighboring Djibouti in August.

Somalia had not had a central government since 1991, when opposition leaders joined forces to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Factional leaders then fought each other, turning the nation of 7 million into battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.

The RRA, reportedly backed by neighboring Ethiopia, has been divided in recent months. Issak, the group’s secretary general, was elected speaker by the 245-member assembly after Hassan took power, but the RRA chairman, Hassan Mohamed Nur, has refused to recognize the new government.

Nur told the British Broadcasting Corp. late Saturday that his faction would prosecute Issak for treason against the Rahanwein people. Nur was reportedly in southeastern Ethiopia, near the Somali border, meeting with two other faction leaders who also oppose the government.

The president has not commented on the ambush, which took place when Issak’s delegation was touring the Rahanwein Resistance Army-controlled Bakol region in an attempt to drum up support for the new government.

A group of legislators from the Rahanwein clan, including Finance Minister Sayid Ahmed Shiek, released a statement calling for peace among the Rahanwein communities.

Update hourly