By Mohamed Ali Bile
MOGADISHU, June 9 (Reuters) - Mogadishu gunmen on Thursday re-manned roadblocks that were dismantled just two days ago in an unprecedented drive to prove the violent Somali capital is safe enough to be its Kenya-based government's home.
The checkpoints, where heavily armed militias extort money from passing drivers, re-appeared in a few locations around the coastal capital in a blow to the peace effort, witnesses said.
It prompted a strike by bus drivers -- regular victims of the extortion -- who demanded the roadblocks be completely removed.
A little more than a dozen checkpoints, major sources of income to warlords who have dominated the anarchic Horn of Africa nation since militias deposed dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, have been taken down since Tuesday.
Independent sources said earlier reports that as many as 25 of the roughly 50 in the city were dismantled were mistaken.
On Wednesday, residents threw rocks at a re-established roadblock near the Bakara Market in a unprecedented display of civil anger.
Though the militia refused to leave, drivers have since avoided the street to deprive the gunmen money, said Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle of the Centre for Research and Dialogue think-tank in Mogadishu.
The roadblock removal effort, backed by civilian groups working with warlords, was part of a plan to pay gunmen to disarm and re-train as police or security at camps around the city.
The interim Somali government, still based in Kenya where it was formed at peace talks last year, is deeply split on where it should first make its home.
Mogadishu warlords in the government and allied MPs, including Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, insist on Mogadishu, and have travelled there to make the case it is safe.
Others allied with President Abdullahi Yusuf plan to first return to Jowhar, north of the capital, and the southern town of Baidoa, with a liaison office in Mogadishu.
They argue the capital must be pacified before the government can fully relocate there.
Somali officials in Kenya plan to leave next week, after the Kenyan government hosts a farewell on Monday, Kenya's Ambassador to Somalia Mohamed Affey told Reuters.
"There is no deadline. The proposition is that we have a final farewell ceremony hosted by Kenya as the host government for the Somali transitional institutions," Affey said, adding that MPs still here would soon go home.
The Somali government has repeatedly delayed its return date. Donors are still paying the MPs' bills at Nairobi hotels.
On Thursday, Somalia's cabinet appointed former diplomat Dr. Elmi Ahmed Duale ambassador to the United Nations.
His appointment came as the cabinet approved an as-yet unfunded budget of $279.5 million, the appointments of other presidential advisers and an ambassador to China.
Meanwhile, a long-running fight between two subclans over control of southern town of Garbaharrey flared on Thursday, killing nine and injuring 16, people who fled the town told Reuters by radio.
Militias with heavy machine guns battled for control of the town, considered a strategic business hub because of its location near the Kenyan border in Somalia's southwest.
(Additional reporting by Bryson Hull and William Maclean in Nairobi)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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