The death toll from street battles in Somalia's war-torn capital Mogadishu has reached at least 45 deaths, with locals fearful of renewed clashes between government forces and insurgents, Radio Garowe reports.
Spokesmen for the government and the insurgents have declared conflicting statements on Mogadishu media, with a government military officer claiming government security forces "retreated from captured positions" as part of a military tactic.
"We have pushed back our [government] forces from captured positions...but that does not mean the war is over," said a military officer identified only as Col. Farhan.
He indicated that the Somali interim government was "intends to use force to expel the armed opposition" and to secure Mogadishu.
But a spokesman for the anti-government Hizbul Islam faction rejected the government's claim, telling reporters that Islamist rebels now "control new areas."
"We defeated the Djibouti Group [the government] and we are not ready for war but we were attacked and we defended ourselves," said Muse Arale, spokesman for Hizbul Islam.
Human and vehicle traffic resumed in parts of Mogadishu where at least 45 people were killed and 155 wounded in yesterday's armed clashes, described as the worst single day of violence since Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected Somali President at the conclusion of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Djibouti last January.
The acting chairman of Mogadishu-based human rights group Elman, Mr. Ali "Fadhaa" Sheikh Yasin, told reporters Saturday that 234 people were killed or wounded during yesterday's fierce clashes.
"We have counted 53 deaths and 181 wounded persons, according to information collected from witnesses and hospitals," Mr. Ali Fadhaa.
He urged the warring sides to stop the violence, while declaring that "fighting among civilians is a war crime."
On Saturday afternoon, there were reports of bombardment as government forces and insurgents exchanged mortar shells in parts of Mogadishu, including explosions at Bakara Market.
Local radio stations reported three deaths and more than 10 wounded, although the reports could not be independently confirmed.
President Sheikh Sharif's interim government is the 15th attempt by the international community to restore national order since the outbreak of the Somali civil war in 1991.