Somalia fires heads of police force and military

MOGADISHU Sun Dec 6, 2009 11:05am EST

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MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia's government fired the head of its police force and its military chief on Sunday two days after a suicide bomber killed three ministers and several others in the capital of the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

Ministers had already been debating for several weeks about replacing the two men to bolster security before a government spokesman announced the sacking of police commander Abdi Hassan Awale and military commander Yusuf Hussein.

"Ali Mohamed Hassan, a former ambassador was appointed as the police commander while Mohamed Gelle Kahiye, a senior military colonel was also appointed as Somali military commander," Abdi Haji Gobdon told Reuters.

Hassan was sacked in 2007 and replaced by Awale. Hussein had been at his post for close to a year.

"The prime minister and his cabinet have agreed to make these changes to tackle the security problems in Somalia."

Neighbouring Kenya has stepped up police patrols in Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Somalis, residents said. Thursday's hotel bombing in Mogadishu heightened concerns about the Somalia's ability to destabilize the whole region.

"Police have arrested more than 80 people in the last two days, Somalis and non-Somalis. They are arresting everyone who does not have immigration papers," Hussein Mohamed, deputy head of Eastleigh Business Association told Reuters.

"It seems there is a fear that fighters from Somalia may infiltrate the people and attack Nairobi."

Somalia's U.N. -backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is battling an insurgency by two rebel groups seeking to introduce their own strict version of Islamic law.

At least 10 people died and a dozen others were injured in the early hours of Sunday after the country's main rebel group, al Shabaab, attacked Basra, a town to the north of the capital.

Residents said al Shabaab attacked early in the morning with dozens of heavily armed vehicles and engaged scores of armed Ahlu Sunna fighters in a fight with machine guns and rocket propelled-grenades.

Ahlu Sunna is linked to Sufism, a moderate branch of Islam, allied to President Ahmed's administration.

Al Shabaab has targeted Sufi holy sites and religious leaders in the past, saying their practices go against the insurgents' strict interpretation of Islamic law.

"I have counted 10 dead sheikhs (preachers) lying in the roads of Basra. About 20 injured sheikhs were also carried in a boat through the Shabelle River," Sheikh Hussein Farah said.

Fighting in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.

(Additional reporting by Abdiaziz Hassan in Nairobi; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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