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Heavy fighting in Somali capital kills 20

January 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Islamic militants fired mortar shells and guns in the Somali capital on Thursday, sparking crossfire with Ethiopian troops and their Somali government allies that killed at least 20 people, witnesses said.Mogadishu residents said the Ethiopian and Somali forces came under attack by Islamic insurgents in the south of the city, sparking mortar and artillery battles that killed six civilians and wounded ten. Four Ethiopian and two Somali soldiers were among the dead, witnesses said.

A radical Islamic group that was driven from power a year ago by a Western-supported offensive is making a significant comeback in Somalia and the government can do little to stop it, government officials say.

Mohamed Haji, a resident who lives near an Ethiopian base in a football stadium in the south of the city, said insurgents had attacked the Ethiopians with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars when they tried to leave their base. He saw two dead Ethiopian soldiers, he said. Another resident, Khadar Nuure, said she also saw two dead Ethiopian troops and two dead Somali government troops.

Shamso Sheikh Nor said that when the Ethiopians began returning mortar and artillery fire, three of her neighbors were killed and one was wounded when a shell landed on their house.

Said Mohamud Dhore said three of his neighbors had also been killed when their house was shelled in a different neighborhood.

Another three people were killed in a separate neighborhood. Two died when their house was hit by a mortar, and another was killed by stray gunfire, said Hassan Ahmed Rage.

"We heard the gunfire. Mortars landed and we started to flee to a nearby concrete building," said resident Mahad Farah. "A mortar landed and killed two people who were also running beside me."

In the city's main Bakara market, businessman Usman Ga'al said that several mortars had landed and one person had died and five were wounded during the shelling.

Dr. Dahir Dhere at Medina hospital said that 15 people had been brought for treatment in total. Four of them had died, he said, bringing the death toll to 20.

In a separate incident, five people were wounded after blasts targeted an Ethiopian army convoy moving between Mogadishu and Afgoye, 18 miles to the west, said resident Abdi Mohamed. A bodyguard at Hawa Abdi hospital who declined to give his name for security reasons said that one of the wounded later died.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991. Thousands of Somalis were killed last year in fighting between Islamic insurgents and the shaky transitional government and its Ethiopian allies. The insurgents vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency after their brief hold on parts of southern Somalia was broken by Ethiopian troops in December 2005.


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