MOGADISHU - A senior Islamic judicial official warned Somalia's interim government on Monday that talks on the anarchic country's future would be broken off if its parliament invited in foreign peacekeeping troops.
Militia loyal to Islamic courts wrested control of the capital Mogadishu last week from warlords widely believed to be funded by the US government, after a three-month battle that killed at least 350 people, most of them civilians.
The weak interim government, formed in Kenya in 2004, was quick to praise the Islamic courts for the victory in Mogadishu and has started talks with the courts to help it move there.
But Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the Mogadishu Islamic courts chairman, said that if the talks were to continue, the government had to first abandon its request for foreign troops.
Officials said parliament hoped to approve such a deployment during its Monday's session in the southern city of Baidoa.
Even if parliament passes the motion, the proposed force of Ugandan and Sudanese troops cannot go unless the UN Security Council lifts an arms embargo in place since 1992.
The weak government has repeatedly said it cannot operate in the lawless Horn of African country without the help of foreign peacekeepers to provide security to the interim leaders.
"The government should stop the request of foreign troops in order for internal discussion with us to continue," Ahmed told reporters.
"Negotiations with the government are not possible at this time because parliament could approve foreign troops."
Fears of fresh fighting heightened on Sunday when Islamic fighters armed with mortars and anti-aircraft guns, were deployed near Balad, 30km north of Mogadishu, in a move believed to be a preparation to attack the last warlord stronghold of Jowhar, 90km north of the capital.
Located between Jowhar and Mogadishu, Balad was a strategic town controlled by the warlords until it fell to the Islamist gunmen.
Analysts say if the Islamic militia captures Jowhar, they will control most of south Somalia, raising questions about whether they will help install the weak interim government or set up a rival administration.
Somalia has been without a real government since 1991 when former strongman Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted by clan warlords, and the interim government has so far failed to assert any real authority over the country of 10 million people.