Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Gun battles rage between rival Somali militias

AFP, MOGADISHU AND NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MARKA, SOMALIA

Displaced Somalis from Mogadishu languish in a squatter camp outside of Marka, Somalia, after fleeing intense violence in Mogadishu.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

Rival Somali militia resumed heavy gun battles yesterday after a brief lull in the lawless capital where intermittent fighting has killed hundreds and led to a civilian exodus, witnesses said.

Residents reported heavy gunfire in the southern Daynile district, where violence spread this week, but no casualties were reported from the volatile neighborhood.

"The main violence started in Daynile about [9am], but sporadic gunfire was heard earlier," said Daud Mohamed, a resident of the district.

"Both sides are exchanging heavy gunfire which could be heard in other parts of the capital," he added.

Other witnesses said the southern K4 district and the northern Sisi and Galgalato neighborhoods, the theater of Thursday's bloody skirmishes that claimed 30 lives and wounded 72 others, remained calm but with a heavy presence of militias.

The fighting pits Islamists against the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT), which was set up in February with US backing to curb the growing influence of Islamic courts and track down extremists, including al-Qaeda members, they are allegedly harboring.

The courts, which have declared a holy war against the alliance -- that they say is financed by the "enemy of Islam" -- deny the accusations.

Somalia's largely powerless transitional government, based in Baidoa about 250km northwest of Mogadishu, has blamed both the alliance and the US for the fighting.

The US says it is being "wrongly blamed," although it has refused to confirm or deny its support for the ARPCT.

But US officials and Somali officials and warlords have told reporters that Washington has given money to the ARPCT, which is one of several groups it is working with to curb what it says is a growing threat from radical Islamists in Somalia.

The Horn of Africa nation of some 10 million has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 fall of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre plunged it into anarchy, with warlords battling for control of a patchwork of fiefdoms.

Meanwhile, horrible memories have followed those who have fled Mogadishu this week for the relative safety of Marka, about 80km down the coast.

At night, the evacuees still dream of the artillery shells that exploded around them. They cannot get the rat-a-tat of automatic weapon fire out of their heads.

"When you witness a 1-year-old whose leg has been cut off by a mortar shell, it stays with you," said Halima Ahmed, 50, who left Mogadishu two days ago with her 85-year-old mother in a donkey cart. "We've witnessed so many things."

The exodus has come on foot, inside packed minibuses and atop overloaded trucks. Some fled with nothing but their children in their arms.

Others took mattresses and cooking pots. All sought to outrun this nasty war, the worst Somalia has seen since the fall of its central government in 1991.

The fighting pits the capital's notorious warlords against Islamist leaders trying to turn the country into a religious state.

The US appears to be in the mix as well, with officials saying Washington is concerned about foreign terrorists in the country and is working with Somali leaders.

The US officials say a small number of foreign fighters with links to al-Qaeda are operating within an alliance of Somali Islamic groups and hope to turn the anarchic country into a place not unlike Afghanistan under the Taliban.

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