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Fighting Spreads In Somalia
Hundreds of people were wounded as shells crashed into their homes in Mogadishu's overcrowded northern shanty town of Siisii. Many more fled to escape the fighting, which spread to neighboring heavily populated areas on Thursday.
An empty street is seen in Somalia's capital Mogadishu after clashes between Somali gunmen, May 11, 2006. REUTERS/Shabelle Media
Hospitals said at least 27 people were killed in fighting that continued overnight as gunmen manned makeshift checkpoints and raced through the streets in pickup trucks mounted with heavy guns.
That brought the death toll from five days of fighting in the failed Horn of Africa state to at least 121. Residents said more people had died during daylight fighting on Thursday, although chaos in Mogadishu made it difficult to obtain details.
The fighting is the third round of Mogadishu street battles this year between gunmen allied to Islamic courts and militia from a self-styled anti-terrorist alliance of powerful warlords widely believed to be funded by Washington.
Most of the dead were civilians and the latest fatalities included a pregnant woman and three children whose house was hit by a mortar.
In another incident, one witness said he saw mortars hit a house twice, killing five members of the same family, including two children.
"Siisii has been turned into a battleground. So many houses have been shelled and hundreds of residents are fleeing. It's a catastrophe," said Siyad Mohamed, a militia leader linked to the Islamic side. "The death toll will definitely rise."
Farhan Gure, a resident living near Siisii, said: "Many people fear there will be worse fighting on Thursday night ... we have never witnessed such a battle before."
Analysts view the fighting as a proxy battle between Islamic militants and Washington, which has long viewed Somalia as a terrorist haven.
Some diplomats and security officials say there are a handful of al-Qaeda-linked militants around Mogadishu, but Somalis do not widely support hardline Islamists.
The Islamic courts have used sharia law to provide a semblance of order in the city of 1 million, where a power vacuum has fuelled endemic violence for the last 15 years.
Ali Nur, a member of the warlords' militia, said the fighting could go on for days. "It looks like we will continue until a clear winner emerges," he said.
Aid workers said they feared more casualties as fighting spread to the Karan and Yaqshid districts.
Residents say neither side has gained the upper hand in heavy fighting that underlines the anarchy that has gripped Somalia since warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991 before turning against each other.
A fledgling interim government led by President Abdillahi Yusuf has lacked the authority or resources to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Somalis since it was formed in 2004 and is too weak to return to Mogadishu from its base in Baidoa.
Undermined by internal splits, Yusuf's government includes some Mogadishu warlords and some allies of the Islamic courts.
Influential Somali Islamist Sheik Dahir Aweys, whose name appears on a U.S. list of most wanted terrorists, has accused Washington of backing the warlords to avenge the killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu in the 1990s during a U.N. peacekeeping mission that ended in humiliation.
U.N. monitors said in a report to the Security Council on Wednesday they were investigating an unnamed country's violation of an arms embargo through clandestine support for the warlord "Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism".
Although the monitors did not identify the country, Yusuf has named the United States as the warlords' backer.
(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Nairobi)