July 26, 2010 / 4:22 PM / 9 years ago

Somali Islamic group cracks down on TV sets

* TVs must be surrendered before Ramadan starts

* Rebels watching AU for signs of offensive-legislator

MOGADISHU, July 26 (Reuters) - Somali Islamist rebels have ordered residents in areas they control to hand over televisions and satellite dishes, warning that anyone who did not would be considered a spy, residents said on Monday.

The affected region is largely controlled by the al Shabaab group, a rebel militia linked to al Qaeda which enforces a harsh version of sharia law that includes banning school bells, ringtones on cell phones and music on radios.

Members of the militia group, which has also banned watching football and films, have warned residents through loud speakers mounted on vehicles in towns across southern and central Somalia to give up their TV sets before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan starts in mid-August.

“Families were told to surrender their television sets and satellite dishes. They are afraid some of us may use them as private channels for communication,” Abshir, a resident of Buula-barde, told Reuters.

“In the past, we could not watch games or films as we wanted. Now, we cannot have TV sets at all,” he said, declining to give his second name for safety reasons.

Another resident in Bardale, a town 60 km north of Baidoa, said they were informed of the decision at a public gathering late on Friday. “We are not happy to handover our belongings to someone else,” said the resident who did not want to be named.

The warning scared residents who are familiar with the group that previously carried out death sentences on dozens of people accused of espionage for the government or foreign troops.

One legislator from Buula-barde said the radical group, which claimed responsibility for bombings in the Ugandan capital of Kampala that killed 76 people this month, were watching developments an African Union summit in the city for any possible offensive.

“They are monitoring closely the discussion at the summit and cautious that African troops may leave the defensive positions after the Kampala bombing,” legislator Osman Mohamed said.

“They are oppressing our people using a poor excuse that residents may be spies, but that is not the case. This is the beginning of series attempts to control information, and create the fear among the people.”

The United States added its voice on Monday to growing calls at the AU summit for more troops to tackle Somalia’s Islamist rebels. Delegates are debating the mandate of 6,300 AU peacekeepers in Somalia, which are barely managing to keep the country’s besieged government in power. (Reporting Abdiaziz Hassan; editing by James Macharia)

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