Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Somali girl killed in gun fight

TIME TO TALK In Nairobi, the US' top diplomat for Africa told the government and the Islamists to resume a dialogue, saying the US was already talking with an Islamist leader

AFP , MOGADISHU

Kenyan Army soldiers stand guard close to the border with Somalia in Liboi, 550km east of Nairobi, on Sunday to ensure that Somali Islamists did not cross over after being defeated by Somali government troops backed by the Ethiopians.

PHOTO: AFP

A 13-year old bystander was killed as gunmen attacked a camp housing Ethiopian troops in the Somali capital on Sunday, after government soldiers said they secured remote regions in the south where Islamist fighters had been holed up.

The clashes erupted as the US top diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Fraser, called on the feuding Somali groups to resume dialogue to help restore stability in their country.

"A 13-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet and another man was wounded," Mohammed Mohamoud, a resident of the area told reporters.

"There is still sporadic gunfire in the area," he added.

A nurse in the nearby Medina hospital confirmed the fatality from the fighting that started at around 8pm, when gunmen attacked the camp housing Ethiopian and Somali troops.

"And minutes later, heavy gunfire started which lasted for about 10 minutes," said resident Abdul Aziz Mohammed Gure.

Another local resident, Abdi Mohammed, said the fighting was sparked by a grenade attack.

In Nairobi, Frazer told the government and the Islamists to resume a dialogue which collapsed early in November when the Islamists refused to meet the government while Ethiopian troops were still in Somalia.

"The [government] must reach out to the key groups inside Somalia ... including religious leaders," Frazer told a press conference in Nairobi, after holding talks with maverick Somali parliament speaker Sherif Hassan Sheikh Aden.

"This group [the Islamists] must also demonstrate their willingness to engage in the transitional federal government," she said, adding that Washington had already opened dialogue with Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, one of the Islamic Courts Union's (ICU) top leaders, who is regarded as a "moderate."

"The Islamic courts have a stake in Somali society [and] in this dialogue ... in this reconciliation. There is no reason they shouldn't be part of it," she added.

Frazer said the Islamic courts were "heterogeneous" since not all their members were extremists with ties to al-Qaeda.

Earlier, commander Abdulrasaq Afgebub said government and Ethiopian forces were in control of Ras Kamboni, a scrubland area bordering on Kenya to which the Islamists had retreated after abandoning their last major stronghold in Kismayo, about 500km south of the capital.

In central Somalia, government troops killed one person after opening fire on demonstrators who were protesting a decision by Ethiopian forces to arrest a police officer after he released an Islamist leader.

"The mission has been accomplished," Afgebub told reporters.

"Government forces have taken control of Ras Kamboni and other areas in the zone where the Islamists were based in the last four days," he said.

But the joint forces, he added, were "still tracking some of them who are hiding in the border area forest and we are going to get them."

"There is no power left for the Islamist terrorists," Afgebub said, using the term employed by Ethiopia, which justified its lightning war in Somalia on the grounds the ICU represented a threat to its own territory, while Washington accuses some of their leaders of al-Qaeda links.

The Islamists were forced to abandon their urban strongholds in southern and central Somalia when joint Somali-Ethiopian forces mounted heavy attacks against their rivals in 10 days of battles that erupted on Dec. 20.

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