Somali fighting toll climbs to 33

MOGADISHU (AFP) — At least 15 people were killed and 23 wounded Tuesday in fighting between gunmen loyal to warlords controlling the Somali capital and Islamic court security militia, witnesses and medical sources said.This brings the death toll to 33 and dozens wounded since the clashes erupted on Saturday, pitting gunmen backed by the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) — a coalition of warlords — against Islamic court militia along a road in southern Mogadishu’s Daynile district, they said. 

“The fighting intensfied afternoon killing 13 people. The wounded are more than 23,” Mohammad Daud, former militia commander, told AFP.

Two other civilians, including a child, were killed by stray rounds earlier in the day, according to a witness, who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons.

Eight of the 15 dead were fighters from rival sides, according to militia sources.

Residents of the bullet-charred capital described the fighting as the heaviest in five years and a witness said the battlefield was “full of blood and it is very scary.”

Tuesday’s fighting, in which militiamen deployed rocket-propelled grenade launchers, heavy machineguns, small caliber guns and mortars, forcing several hundreds of terrified town-dwellers to flee the battlezone to relatively peaceful areas.

Eighteen people have been killed in the last three days at least six flatbed trucks mounted with anti-aircraft and machineguns destroyed.

The rival camps are fighting over the control of the 21 October Road, named after the day when dictator Mohammad Siad Barre came to power in 1969, where a massive military barracks, academy and garage are located.

“Artillery guns of 85 mm and 105 mm are being used seriously used. The main target of the bombardment was the military academy, military barracks,” Daud added.

“We immediately rushed to help the affected people and left very quickly afraid that another mortar shell might land in the vicinity and kill us,” said Mohammad Abdullahi, a witness, told AFP.

The injured were taken to the capital’s main Medina hospital and others to various clinics in southern Mogadishu.

The clashes erupted moments after the warlords launched the ARPCT, an initiative believed to be backed by Washington, aimed at ridding the influence of Islamic extremism from Somalia.

Critics have accused the Islamic courts, which have set up a form of quasi-judicial system in Mogadishu, of having links to the Al Qaeda network.

Western intelligence groups have long warned that the world’s failure to support efforts to stabilise lawless Somalia risked turning the country into a breeding ground for Islamic extremism and have expressed concern at the influence of Islamic clerics.

Somalia, a nation of up to 10 million people, has been wracked by chronic unrest with warlords and rival militias fighting for control of unruly fiefdoms that sprung up after Barre was toppled in 1991.

Since then, the country has had no functioning central government and numerous efforts to create a viable new administration have floundered amid a chaotic and often bloody power struggle among local politicians and warlords.

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