13 July 2009

Somalia: Country's President Hails Victory, Rebels Retake Lost Ground

Mogadishu — President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told a Monday press conference at the Villa Somalia presidential compound that government forces took control of areas formerly held by insurgents.

"Our troops pushed back the rebels and it was a historic victory," President Sheikh Sharif said, while referring to two days of fighting in Mogadishu where upwards of 70 people were killed and more than 150 others wounded.

He claimed that government forces killed a Somali American man who was fighting alongside insurgents, including Al Shabaab, which is listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

Peacekeeper deaths

AMISOM peacekeepers were directly involved in Sunday's armed clashes with insurgents, officials and residents said.

The Ugandan army's spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulayigye, told Ugandan media that three AMISOM peacekeepers were killed when a mortar slammed into the Villa Somalia presidential palace, where AMISOM troops stand guard.

The AMISOM peacekeeping mission is composed of 4,200 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi, but still far short of the 8,000-strong force the AU authorized.

Local sources reported that AMISOM tanks were involved in the fighting and backed pro-government forces for the first time since the peacekeepers arrived in March 2007.

Insurgents 'return'

Islamist insurgents retreated from key districts in north Mogadishu where yesterday's heavy battles took place, witnesses and government officials said.

But on Monday, the heavily-armed insurgents had returned to the districts of Kaaraan, Shibis and Abdiaziz, with witnesses saying the insurgents and government forces are within striking distance of each other.

There were no reports of fighting on Monday, however.

Sheikh Ali "Dheere" Mohamud, the spokesman for Al Shabaab insurgents, condemned AMISOM peacekeepers for backing government forces.

"We will make them [AMISOM] feel like the Ethiopians," said the Al Shabaab spokesman, who was referring to Ethiopia's two-year military intervention in south-central Somalia that ended in Jan. 2009.

Military tensions remain high in Mogadishu, where pro-government forces and insurgents are gearing up for renewed clashes. Meanwhile, civilians continue to flee violent-ridden districts but many civilians have been caught in the crossfire, according to human rights groups and hospital sources.

Islamist hardliners are attempting to overthrow the Western-backed interim government in Somalia, led by President Sheikh Sharif, himself a former Islamist insurgent leader.

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