First Published: 2007-03-19

Somali insurgents step up attacks in Mogadishu

Barrage of mortar shells crashes down into civilian district after missing their target in Somali capital.


Middle East Online

By Mustafa Haji Abdinur - MOGADISHU

Escalating violence

Gunmen stepped up attacks in Somalia's capital on Sunday, killing a civilian and wounding 11 others, hours after a police chief was shot dead in the southern port of Kismayo.

In Mogadishu, a barrage of mortar shells crashed down into a civilian district after missing their target in the seaport, where an African Union-chartered freighter carrying military hardware is expected to dock.

In addition, gunmen ambushed a convoy of Ethiopian troops near the seaport in southern Mogadishu, sparking a gun battle and highlighting the government's inability to rein in the deadly and complex insurgency.

"A middle-aged man was killed during the cross fire near the seaport," said Muhidin Farah, a cousin of the deceased in Mogadishu, which has frequently been riven be clan strife since the collapse of a central government in 1991.

Residents and medical sources said a further 11 people were injured when most of the 13 mortar rounds missed their target and hit a restaurant.

"We have so far received seven wounded civilians, including two children and a woman," said Mohamed Ali, a medic in the capital's Medina Hospital. "Some of them are severely wounded."

Resident Abdulaziz Mohamed said four other civilians were wounded in the attacks -- two were taken to a private hospital and two others treated in a pharmacy.

A duty police official confirmed a gun battle took place after insurgents ambushed Ethiopian forces.

It was unclear if the either insurgents or Ethiopian troops suffered fatalities in the fighting.

Later in the evening, government troops at the seaport fired out boats out to sea.

"The heavy gunfire you have heard were of government forces who were protecting the waters ... in order to prevent attacks from the insurgents who might use boats," Lieutenant Colonel Ibrahim Ali said.

The latest violence came hours after regional police commander Major Abdi Mohamed Abdulle was killed overnight in his compound by one of his bodyguards in the southern port town of Kismayo.

Abdulle had gained a reputation for his unrelenting crackdown on gunmen in the port town, which was the last bastion of the Islamists ousted from much of south and central Somalia in January.

Stray bullets injured a second bodyguard and two children in a neighbouring house, witnesses said. The man suspected of shooting Abdulle has been arrested and taken into custody.

Ethiopian troops last December launched a lightning offensive alongside the fighters of the weak Somali government to drive out Islamists from the country's towns, but the Islamists have since fought back. An African Union force of 8,000 peacekeepers has begun to deploy.

Meanwhile in the government seat in Baidoa, a UN delegation held talks with Prime Minister Ali Mohamed to discuss security issues, including the takeover of a an AU peacekeeping mission after six months, a government official said.

Analysts say that in coming weeks the government must prove it can assure control Mogadishu security ahead of the April 16 opening of a national reconciliation conference, which insurgents are keen on disrupting.

Attacks on civilian targets in the seaside capital have claimed dozens of lives and forced at least 40,000 people to flee since the start of the year despite a deployment of at least 4,000 government troops and assurances of improving security.

Earlier this month, the African Union deployed 1,200 Ugandan troops to Somalia, part of the proposed 8,000-strong force aimed at enabling Ethiopian troops to leave and Somali forces to take over.

The peacekeepers, who have also been attacked, are expected to help interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed exert control across his nation.

Since their arrival on March 6, Ugandan troops have been encamped inside Mogadishu airport awaiting military equipment before starting patrols.

A previous US-UN peace mission in the 1990s ended disastrously after the peacekeepers fought pitched battles with Somali warlords, who later carved up the nation of 10 million into a patchwork of unruly fiefdoms.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of leader Mohamed Siad Barre.


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