MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – The first commercial flight in a decade departed Mogadishu’s newly reopened international airport Sunday, demonstrating how Islamic militants have pacified the once-anarchic capital and much of southern Somalia.

Local airlines had been operating from private airstrips outside the capital.

Now, Islamic militiamen are guarding the airport for commercial passengers, said Sheik Muqtar Robow, deputy defense chief for the Islamic group.

“This is a historic flight for me,” passenger Hawa Abdi Hussein said before boarding the Somalia-based Jubba Airways plane to the United Arab Emirates. “I think we at last gained peace and security.”

The prime minister of Somalia’s largely powerless government, meanwhile, survived a close no-confidence vote that exposed the divisions in his administration, which watched helplessly as the militants seized power.

The Islamic militia imposed strict religious courts after taking hold of the capital and surrounding areas last month, raising fears of a Taliban-style hard-line regime.

The United States accuses the group of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Somalia had been without an effective central government since warlords deposed dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the country into chaos.

Mogadishu, home to an estimated 1.2 million people, disintegrated into a looted shantytown with no public services.

News of Sunday’s flight gratified Hussein Osman Kariye, a secondary school teacher in Mogadishu.

“I remember in the older days, happier times, when I would welcome my relatives from abroad. The airport was very beautiful then, well-lit, decorated and green,” Kariye said.

Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi’s government has been unraveling since the militants’ victory. On Thursday, 18 lawmakers resigned in disgust, saying his weak administration has failed to bring peace.

But he kept his job Sunday even though only 88 lawmakers voted to keep him and 126 voted for his ouster.

The motion needed 139 votes to pass.

“All mistakes and doubts about my administration will be soon resolved,” Gedi said after the vote in Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu.

Gedi said that those who voted against him were “serving the enemy of Somalia,” an apparent reference to the Islamic militants.

Somalia’s government was formed two years ago with the support of the United Nations to help the country emerge from more than a decade of anarchy, but it has no power outside its base in Baidoa.

Gedi has accused Egypt, Libya, Iran and Eritrea of providing weapons to the militants. The militants, meanwhile, say Ethiopia – Somalia’s longtime enemy – has sent troops here to support the fragile government.

The United States and other Western powers have cautioned outsiders against meddling in Somalia. But there is little sign the warning has been heeded.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazier said over the weekend that both sides in the conflict have “invited in foreign forces,” but she gave no specifics.

A Somali militia commander said that Sunday that 25 sailors who were taken hostage in April off the Horn of Africa country’s lawless coast had been released for more than $800,000 in ransom and were headed to the Seychelles islands off the coast of Africa.

A South Korean official has said that the hostages were from South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and China.

The militants claimed they seized the boat to defend their waters from illegal fishing. South Korea said the pirates took it from international to Somali waters.



Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad Hassan contributed to this report from Baidoa.



On the Net:

http://www.jubba-airways.com

AP-ES-07-30-06 1310EDT



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