Islamic insurgents battle Ethiopian troops in Somalia

AP , MOGADISHU

Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - Page 6

Heavy fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's shaky government has killed 50 people and wounded 100 in the past 24 hours, witnesses and doctors said on Friday.

Ethiopian troops based at the former defense ministry in the south of the capital killed eight civilians early on Friday when they fired tank shells into the main Bakara market, Khalif Haji Muse said, adding that two others died when Ethiopian snipers fired at them. Other witnesses said six others died when shells crashed into their homes.

The corpses of 34 people, among them four women and six Ethiopians, were found in the northern and southern parts of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, where fighting was intense a day earlier, witnesses said.

Mogadishu has seen little peace since December, when Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia's UN-backed government ousted an Islamic group called the council of Islamic Courts.

This year alone, thousands of Somalis have been killed in fighting between Ethiopian troops and Islamic insurgents who vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war after they were chased from the capital and their strongholds in the south of the country.

Presidential spokesman Hussein Mohamed Mohamud said insurgents would be treated harshly.

The insurgents' aim, Mohamud said, "is to depict the fighting as a war between Ethiopians and Somali people. Far from it."

"The fighting is between government troops and their Ethiopian friends on one hand, and the peace-haters on the other hand and anyone who hurts Ethiopian or Somali troops will be treated as a traitor," he said.

The fighting on Thursday began when Ethiopian troops tried to retrieve the body of one of their soldiers who had been killed in earlier skirmishes. Hundreds of protesters -- mainly women and children -- chanted anti-Ethiopian slogans and dragged the body through the city for about 8km, witnesses said.

Ethiopian troops based at the former prisons guard building in the south fired several tank shells into the north of the city, hitting the livestock market, which is seen as a hotbed of supporters of Islamic insurgents battling the Somali government and their Ethiopian allies, local resident Abdiaziz Mohamed Guled said.

The dragged soldier was one of two Ethiopian soldiers and a Somali killed earlier on Thursday in heavy fighting that started when hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers from two nearby military bases began patrols in the northeastern Hurwa neighborhood.

Doctors at Medina, Keysaney and Daynile hospitals said they have treated 100 civilians with gunshot wounds since Thursday.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the north and south of the capital on Friday and Somali government troops were patrolling some of the streets, residents said. But no substantial fighting was reported on Friday morning.