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At least 35 killed in Somalia violence: witnesses
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 8 May 2008 - At least 35 people were killed in Somalia in in separate clashes between Ethiopian troops and Islamist insurgents, witnesses and officials said Thursday.
Some 23 were killed late Wednesday near the village of Garsani, some 300 kilometres (180 miles) north of Mogadishu, when insurgents ambushed an Ethiopian military convoy.
Several witnesses said at least 13 civilians and eight Ethiopian soldiers had been killed in the fighting, while the insurgents admitted to losing two fighters in the battle.
"The fighting was so heavy and our holy warriors with the help of Allah won a huge victory," Sheikh Abdirahin Ise, an Islamist spokesman told AFP.
"In return they (Ethiopians) killed pastoralists who were near the fighting zone," he added.
"I have counted bodies of 13 civilians, including four children," said Ibrahim Adan Moalim, a local resident.
Ethiopian forces late Wednesday killed at least 12 nomads in Walaweyne, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) east of Mogadishu, bringing the death toll to 35.
"Those nomads were setting up their makeshift camp in Almore village when they were killed by Ethiopia forces who had been ambushed by insurgents on a nearby road," Sheikh Mohamed Addow, another elder.
"The Ethiopians slit throats of some people," he added.
Another elder, Ali Omar confirmed the death toll said the bodies were being prepared for burial.
"So far, the team has collected 12 bodies that are now in the Yakbiriweyne mosque. We will bury them in a mass grave," he told AFP.
Islamists insurgents confirmed they had ambushed the Ethiopians.
"Our forces ambushed the Ethiopian enemies and destroyed three vehicles in Walaweyne. I cannot confirm the exact number of Ethiopians killed, but they suffered heavy casualties.
"The Ethiopian forces will not use the roads in our country peaceful. They will take the pain of the bullets of our mujahideens," said Islamists spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow.
The Islamists promised to avenge the killing of Hashi Aden Ayro -- a senior Islamist leader accused of being Al-Qaeda's pointman in Somalia -- in a US airstrike last week.
Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in late 2006 to rescue an embattled transitional government and defeated an Islamist militia which had taken control of large parts of Somalia.
The remnants of the militia have since waged a deadly guerrilla battle against government forces, its Ethiopian allies and African Union peacekeepers, mainly in Mogadishu.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International accused the Ethiopian forces of increasing resorting to throat-slitting executions in their crackdown on Islamists rebels.
Separately, a truck driver contracted by the World Food Programme was shot dead in central Somalia late Wednesday by a gunman who opened fire at a convoy of trucks ferrying food.
"We condemn this senseless killing and once again urge all parties to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian staff and cargo across the country," Peter Goossens, WFP's director for Somalia said in a statement.
The driver was the second to be killed since February, when militiamen shot dead the leader of a convoy of WFP-contracted trucks in southern Somalia.
A seemingly endless violence in the country has disrupted delivery of aid to hundreds of thousands of civilians uprooted from their homes across the country.
Humanitarian groups are struggling to feed at least two million people in Somalia, which is experiencing a prolonged drought and record high inflation that touched off two days of rioting in the capital this week.
The shattered African nation has been wracked by violence since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre led to a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous bids to restore normalcy.