* Warning to radio stations in capital shows rebels reach
* Moderate Sufi fighters and Islamists militants clash
By Ibrahim Mohamed
MOGADISHU, April 14 (Reuters) - Islamist rebels warned private radio stations to stop playing music in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, while at least 11 people were killed in fighting, residents in the south of country said on Wednesday.
A fragile western backed government controls just a few blocks in the capital, while militant Islamist groups, some linked to al Qaeda, control large swathes of southern and central Somalia.
The rebels want to impose a harsh version of sharia law on the anarchic nation on the Horn of Africa, and the threat to radio stations in Mogadishu demonstrated their growing reach. Hizbul Islam — which is allied with al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels — had given a 10-day ultimatum to Mogadishu’s radio stations, a media rights group said.
“We could do nothing else but obey the order,” said Mohamed Barre Fiyore, director of Danan, a radio station in the capital.
He said his station was using the sound of crowing of roosters, traffic and recitation of traditional poems instead of music to link programmes.
Similar actions had been taken elsewhere outside the capital, and the Islamists routinely ban what they call social vices like music or women not wearing veils. “No music and no jingles made all our favourite programmes monotonous. I don’t listen to the radio anymore. There is no interest. Pop music was my favorite and I am left without music now,” said Asha Salad, an 18 year old in the capital.
Last week, al Shabaab said they had taken the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) off the air in regions they controlled because it spread Christian propaganda. It also took action against the U.S.-funded Voice of America. [ID:nLDE6381ZK]
Somalia has been enmeshed in civil war since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Since then, tens of thousands have died from famine, war and disease. The anarchy has also seen the rise of rampant piracy off Somalia’s shores.
In the latest violence in the south — some 250 km north of Mogadishu — fighters from a moderate Sufi Islamist group, called Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, aligned to the government, engaged in heavy clashes with al Shabaab rebels, residents said.
“So far, we have seen 11 dead bodies scattered along frontlines and 14 others wounded. The casualties might be more,” Mohamud Abdi, an elder in Ali Gurey village, told Reuters.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government has promised Ahlu Sunna five ministerial positions, and the post of deputy chief of staff in the army. [ID:nLDE62E1UH]
The Sufis’ quarrel with the rebels is mainly ideological.
Somalia has a rich Sufi tradition going back more than five centuries. Sufis have been angered by the desecration of graves, the beheading of clerics, and bans on celebrating the birth of the Prophet imposed by the hardline Wahhabi insurgents. (Additional reporting and writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)