Mortar attacks on Mogadishu kill 3

Insurgents fired more than two dozen mortar shells at government targets in the Somali capital overnight, including the president’s residence, in an apparent attempt to disrupt reconciliation talks planned for the weekend.At least three men were killed, but the president’s home was not hit, witnesses said Thursday.

Among the targets were police stations and the venue of the reconciliation conference, officials and witnesses said.

A dozen heavily armed gunmen also battled government troops for about 15 minutes in southern Mogadishu, which has been hit by a frequent explosions in recent days, said Qasim Awdini, who watched the fighting from the rooftop of his house.

Mogadishu has seen little peace since government troops backed by Ethiopian forces drove an Islamic movement out of the city in December. Roadside bombs, attacks on government installations, assassination attempts and gunbattles have become common, and civilians have been caught in the crossfire.

Insurgents targeted President Abdullahi Yusuf’s residence with five mortar shells Wednesday night, but only one landed in an empty garden inside the compound, said Mohammad Mahmoud Burale, who works inside the hilltop palace.

Two brothers “who were sleeping in the same room at the time” died when a mortar shell slammed into their home, said Abdullhi Amir Awkuku, who lives near the presidential palace. An elderly man was killed Thursday and seven others wounded, including a policeman, in separate grenade attacks around the capital, witnesses said.

Government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon declined to comment on the attacks. But Mogadishu Mayor Mohammad Dheere accused city traders of orchestrating them.

“About 24 mortars were fired overnight at government positions,” said Dheere. “All were coming from Bakara market, so it is the traders who are behind the attack.” On Sunday, a much-delayed reconciliation conference is to be held in the capital, which government troops backed by Ethiopians are struggling to pacify. Dheere said the aim of the attackers was to disrupt the conference, which is envisioned as a chance for elders to deal with clan grievances.

He accused political opponents, including the Council of Islamic Court and Al Qaeda, of orchestrating the attacks from Eritrea, where they have started setting up a parallel government.

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