Somali militants seize 2nd town in 24 hours – MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP)

March 7th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Islamist insurgents killed five government soldiers while briefly seizing a strategic town in central Somalia late Thursday, police and residents said.

A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said several military vehicles were also destroyed in Belet Weyne, the provincial capital of the central Somali region of Hiraan, 200 miles north of Mogadishu. (more…)

Islamist insurgents killed five government soldiers while briefly seizing a strategic town in central Somalia late Thursday, police and residents said.

A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said several military vehicles were also destroyed in Belet Weyne, the provincial capital of the central Somali region of Hiraan, 200 miles north of Mogadishu.

Belet Weyne is near a critical road junction that links Somalia to the border with Ethiopia, the governments ally. Hundreds of troops are stationed at the junction, which is also Ethiopia’s main supply route.

“They launched a surprise attack on the town from different directions, facing pockets of resistance from government forces and immediately took the control of the police station, the prison and a hotel government regional officials were using,” the officer said.

The town’s police chief, Col. Abdi Aden, confirmed that five government soldiers had been killed and several military vehicles destroyed.

Local resident Duniyo Ali said the fighters had retained control of the town for about three hours before voluntarily withdrawing. The area was now calm, she said.

On Thursday, residents said Islamists seized Hudur, a strategic southwestern Somali town that lies along the road leading from Ethiopia into Somalia, without firing a shot.

On the other side of the country, on Monday, the U.S. launched a missile strike targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Islamist fighters have vowed to wage an Iraq-style war on the shaky Western-backed transitional government after Somali troops supported by their Ethiopian allies chased the Islamists from power in December 2005. The Islamists had seized control of much of the south and the country’s capital, Mogadishu, which they had held for six months.

While many Somalis did not support the more extreme religious laws enforced by the fighters, the Islamists managed to significantly reduce the number of militia roadblocks and street fighting between clans that has plagued the Horn of Africa nation since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown by a group of warlords in 1991. The insurgents are backed by Ethiopia’s archenemy Eritrea, which has faced consistent criticism from human rights groups.

Since the Islamists launched their insurgency, thousands of Somalis have been killed. Somali government troops and officials come under daily attack and the U.N.-backed administration is viewed by many Somalis as corrupt and ineffective. The impoverished country is riven between warring clans and awash with weapons.

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