22 May 2009

Somalia: 25 Killed in Government Offensive Against Insurgents

At least 25 people were killed in Friday clashes after Somali government forces attacked Islamist insurgents in the capital Mogadishu, Radio Garowe reports.

More than 90 people were wounded as fighting raged on several fronts, with Somali Defense Minister Mohamed Abdi Gandi saying government forces retook control of insurgent strongholds.

"We [government] started the fighting and we intend to defend the Somali people...we were forced to fight as there was no other alternative," the Defense Minister said in Mogadishu.

But Sheikh Ali "Dheere" Mohamud, the newly appointed spokesman for Al Shabaab hardliners, rejected the government's claim and stated that the insurgents remain in control of their strongholds.

Witnesses said government forces were "sitting at the edge of Bakara Market," the country's largest marketplace and the notorious stronghold of the Islamist insurgency since 2007. Bakara businesses remained shut as the fighting continued, witnesses added.

Mr. Muse Arale, a spokesman for the anti-government Hizbul Islam faction, told reporters that the attack on Bakara was "pre-planned and intended to loot the market."

"The former warlords [of Mogadishu] are leading the war," Mr. Arale alleged. Earlier this week, a senior government official met with ex-Mogadishu warlords to discuss the war effort. READ: Govt ministers, ex-warlords 'declare war' on Al Shabaab

Hundreds of civilians were fleeing Mogadishu as the fighting raged, with medical sources confirming that more than 90 people were wounded during Friday's armed clashes.

A reporter for Radio Shabelle, Mr. Abdirisak Warsame Mohamed, was among the dead but radio owners could not ascertain whether he was specifically targeted or killed by a flying bullet.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since the early 1990s and the U.N.-backed interim government led by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is the 15th attempt to restore national order by the international community.

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