Fri, Dec 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Fierce battles ongoing in Somalia despite ceasefire

FAILED TRUCE A day after the EC humanitarian chief said a truce had been agreed, clashes between government forces and Islamic fighters continued

AFP , MOGADISHU

Union of Islamic Courts fighters cheer at the frontline area of Modemode, Somalia, on Oct. 31.

PHOTO: EPA

Somalia's Ethiopia-backed armed forces and Islamic fighters clashed yesterday near the seat of government in Baidoa for a second day, tilting the country into deeper conflict, officials and witnesses said.

A day after the European Commission humanitarian chief Louis Michel said he had secured the commitment of both sides to a truce and resumption of peace talks, Information Minister Ali Jama said the Islamists were mobilizing to continue the clashes.

"Mortar fire was still going on at night ... nothing has stopped. We are expecting new attacks during the day from both fronts," he said.

"They are mobilizing and these people are showing signs of their readiness to fight," he added.

But residents said rival forces continued pounding each other with heavy shells and rockets near the seat of government in Baidoa, about 250km northwest of Mogadishu, and hundreds of terrified civilians fled the battlezone.

"I have taken my family to Baidoa for safety, because we can hear heavy artillery shells in the area," Adan Mursal said, a resident of Daynunay, 30km east of Baidoa.

"No one slept all night because of the fierce fighting," he added.

Jama said the government was prepared to defend itself, a day after claiming that its Ethiopia-backed troops had inflicted heavy losses on Islamic fighters in an upsurge of clashes.

"The government will not attack anybody, but we are prepared to defend ourselves," he said.

Deadly clashes erupted early Wednesday, hours after the expiry of an Islamist ultimatum for Ethiopian forces backing the weak government to withdraw.

The government said it killed "hundreds" of Islamic fighters who attacked army training camps in Daynunay and in Manas, 30km south of Baidoa, but the Islamists rejected the claims.

"We have killed a lot and won the war, we shall continue defeating the enemy of Allah," said Islamic commander Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim Bilal.

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