November 15, 2008 / 1:34 PM / 11 years ago

Islamist rebels whip 32 dancers in Somalia

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Islamist insurgents whipped 32 people in Somalia Saturday after arresting them for taking part in a traditional dance in rebel-held territory south of the capital Mogadishu.

Fighters enforcing a strict form of sharia law have been slowly advancing on the city, raising the stakes in their two-year rebellion and undermining fragile U.N.-brokered peace talks to end 17 years of chaos in the Horn of Africa nation.

Last month, they stoned to death a young woman accused of adultery in the rebel-controlled southern port of Kismayu.

Islamist spokesman Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Adow said those arrested had been warned several times against dancing.

“We arrested 25 women and seven men who were dancing near Balad (town). We released them after whipping them. We warned them many times, but they wouldn’t listen,” he told Reuters.

“The dancing of men and women together is illegal and totally against Islam. We neither killed them nor injured them, but only whipped them according to the Islamic law,” Adow said.

Last month’s stoning to death of the woman in Kismayu was the first such public killing by the hardline militants for about two years and drew international condemnation.

Witnesses said the woman was 23, but the United Nations said later that the victim was a 13-year-old girl who had apparently been raped by three men while visiting her grandmother.

The Islamists last carried out public executions when they ruled Mogadishu and most of south Somalia for half of 2006. Allied Ethiopian and Somali government forces toppled them at the end of that year, but they have waged an Iraq-style guerrilla campaign since then, gradually taking back territory.

As when they controlled the capital in 2006, the Islamists are again providing much-needed security in many areas. But they are unpopular with many moderate Muslims in Somalia for also imposing fundamentalist practices such as banning various forms of entertainment denounced as anti-Islamic.

The turmoil in Somalia has fueled instability across the Horn of Africa, fuelling one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and triggering a wave of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, a vital shipping lane for trade between Europe and Asia.

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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