MOGADISHU (Reuters) â€” Rival Somali factions armed with truck-mounted machineguns fought on Monday for control of a town where President Abdullahi Yusuf plans to set up a temporary capital, killing and wounding several people, residents said.
Hundreds of militiamen attacked the southern town of Baidoa at about 3:45am (0045 GMT) and fought for about six hours with gunmen loyal to Mohammad Ibrahim Habsade, an anti-Yusuf parliamentarian who has held the settlement for several months.
A dispute over where to install Yusuf’s divided government has deepened power struggles within his administration, and Habsade sides with warlords based in Mogadishu who are demanding that Yusuf base his Cabinet in the traditional capital.
The location of the government, which has been based in Kenya since it was formed at peace talks there last year, is a key security issue for Somalia’s neighbours in the Horn of Africa, a region long buffeted by Somalia’s political turmoil.
There was an uneasy calm in Baidoa at mid-morning, residents contacted by telephone from Mogadishu and Nairobi said.
Habsade dismissed Somali media reports that the attackers took control of up to half the market town, a centre of livestock trading with a population of several hundred thousand, 125 kilometres northwest of Modgadishu.
â€œI am still in control,â€ Habsade told Reuters, saying his officers were collecting detailed information on casualties.
â€œMy forces were able to defeat the attackers who were around 500. We believe many people have been killed and wounded… If they (rival forces) attack me again I will defend myself.â€
Somalia collapsed into chaos after the overthrow of military ruler Mohammad Siad Barre in 1991. Conflict and famine have killed hundreds of thousands of people since then.
Yusuf is under pressure from foreign governments and donors to return home from Kenya.