Heavy Mogadishu fighting kills 14 – By AFP
Fierce clashes killed at least 14 people in Mogadishu on Tuesday, as Islamist insurgents marred newly-elected President Sharif Sheikh Hassan’s first days in the Somali capital.
The fighting was the worst in weeks and came two days after a suspected suicide bombing against African Union forces left 11 dead, in the deadliest such attack since the peacekeepers were deployed two years ago.
Heavily armed militia ambushed government troops in Mogadishu’s southern Taleh district, sparking a fierce exchanges in which at least 50 civilians were also wounded, witnesses said.
Two people died of their wounds in Mogadishu’s main Medina hospital, nurse Ahmed Ali told AFP, while four other civilians were killed when mortar shells struck their homes.
“More than 50 people injured in the clashes have been brought to the hospital and two of them have died so far,” Ali said.
Abdiaziz Hassan, a witness, said: “Four civilians from a house very close to mine were killed. Three of them were killed by a mortar shell explosion while the other was caught in the crossfire.”
Earlier, residents said five other people were killed in similar circumstances in different neighbourhoods in southern Mogadishu.
Three civilians were also killed in the busy Bakara market area, said Adan Moalim Nur, a local grocer.
Thousands of civilians have died in the Somali capital over the past two years. Islamist insurgents often launch attacks against police or AU positions from populated areas, sparking deadly retaliatory mortar fire.
Tuesday’s fighting was the most intense since Ethiopian troops completed their pullout from Somalia last month.
It was still unclear whether the hardline Shebab Islamists or fighters loyal to Hizb al-Islamiya (Islamic Party) — two of the main groups opposed to the government in the capital — was behind the attacks.
Mogadishu had enjoyed a relative lull in violence since Sheikh Ahmed was elected on January 31.
After a string of regional consultations which saw the young cleric choose a prime minister and bolster support for a UN-sponsored peace initiative, Sheikh Sharif returned to the war-wracked capital on Monday.
On Sunday, a suspected suicide car bomb ripped through a base of the AU peacekeeping mission’s Burundian contingent, killing at least 11 and rattling a force which is supposed to take over security duties from Ethiopia.
Mortar shells were also fired at the presidential palace in Mogadishu on Tuesday, causing no casualties.
Sheikh Sharif was one of the main targets of Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion and long remained one of the staunchest opponents of the Somali neighbour’s military presence.
As Ethiopia began preparing its withdrawal, he moved to the political centre and signed up to the UN-backed reconciliation process with the former leaders of the transitional federal government.
The influential Islamist leader has pledged to extend a hand to all Somali factions but hardline armed groups have vowed to continue their struggle until the AU pulled out its forces.