BEIRUT

Middle East

Al-Shabaab, Somali troops clash in Mogadishu

MOGADISHU: Sporadic shooting Friday rang out in Mogadishu and witnesses said at least three people had died, a day after Islamist rebels displayed dozens of dead bodies said to be African Union and government troops.

Somali government forces said they were pushing further into Mogadishu’s northwest Deynile district, mopping up Al-Shabaab fighter positions within the city, following an offensive Thursday.

“There is sporadic fighting going on in Deynile district,” Abdulahi Ibrahim, a Somali government security official said. “The forces are moving deep into the district and the enemy is fleeing.”

Heavy fighting in the Mogadishu suburb began before dawn Thursday, as AU-backed Somali forces advanced on holdout Islamist Al-Shabaab positions.

Witnesses said Friday that at least three civilians had been killed in crossfire and 10 injured, since Thursday.

“Most people are fleeing into the trees. Some people are still trapped in some parts of the district. There is crossfire. I saw the bodies of at least three civilians and more than 10 others were injured,” a witness, Ali Ganey said.

The Al-Qaeda-linked militants late Thursday laid out in an area they hold outside the capital dozens of dead bodies in military uniforms they said were Burundian soldiers with the AU force whom they had killed.

Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohammad Rage boasted that the bodies of “over 70” soldiers were displayed in the dust to reporters, claims backed up by several witnesses.

If verified, the figures would represent the heaviest losses that AU forces in Mogadishu have suffered in some four years of bloody battles defending the weak Western-backed government against the hardline Al-Shabaab.

But another witness Friday told Associated Press many of the bodies put on display were likely Somali government soldiers and an AU spokesman said Friday that the insurgents had stolen uniforms and dressed up scores of their own dead.

African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) forces and government troops have pushed into remaining rebel areas in Mogadishu, after the bulk of Al-Shabaab abandoned fixed positions in August.

The Burundi army, whose troops occupy the AMISOM sector of recent fighting, did not deny the reports of losses but gave their own lower figures.

“We have lost six soldiers and 18 wounded, including four seriously,” said Burundian army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza, giving a “preliminary assessment.”

“I cannot say at this stage whether or not there are missing soldiers, because the Deynile operation continues, and the soldiers have not yet returned to their base,” he said.

Ugandan soldiers make up the bulk of the 9,000 strong AU force and control sections of the anarchic capital.

Al-Shabaab are also battling Kenyan troops in southern Somalia, after Nairobi launched an unprecedented military incursion Sunday against rebels they accuse of attacks and abduction of foreigners on its territory.

Al-Shabaab, who deny kidnapping foreigners, have warned of retaliation. “We are warning Kenyan troops against their invasion,” spokesman Rage said Friday.  

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2011, on page 10.

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