Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Somalia moving towards all-out war as fighting spreads

AFP , MOGADISHU

Heavy fighting between Somali Islamists and Ethiopian-backed government troops yesterday spread to new fronts in central Somalia on the fifth day of deadly clashes, pitching the country closer to an all-out war, both sides said.

The near week-long fighting erupted in the Islamist-held townships of Beledweyne and Bandiradley, 300km and 630km north of the capital Mogadishu, they added.

"This is the heaviest fighting, it started early this morning around Bandiradley and is still continuing," said Mohamed Mohamoud Jumale, the Islamists' spokesman in the township.

Jumale said the fighting in central Somalia erupted after Ethiopian troops pounded Islamic positions.

"They [Ethiopians] attacked us and are using heavy artillery and tanks. I think this fighting will cause a lot of casualties but we hope Allah will assist us and we will win the war," he said.

Meanwhile, heavy artillery shells were heard near the government seat of Baidoa and in Burhakaba, controlled by the Islamists, according to residents.

Fighting erupted early on Wednesday, hours after the expiry of an Islamist-imposed ultimatum for Ethiopia to withdraw the thousands of troops the Islamists say Addis Ababa has deployed in the country.

Ethiopia is supporting Somalia's weakened government against the Islamist forces, which control Mogadishu and much of the rest of the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation.

"The government forces are in defensive positions and the fighting is too heavy. Several frontline areas are in hell today," Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the fighting around Baidoa had left "dozens" dead.

The government claims its Ethiopian-backed forces have killed more than 500 Islamist fighters since Wednesday, while Islamists speak of killing at least 70 enemy combatants in the same region.

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