At least 74 people were killed in fighting near Somalia's border with Ethiopia on Sunday, according to officials and witnesses. Somali and Ethiopian forces attacked the bases of Al-Shebab islamists near the south-western town of Ato.
Local people say that this is the worst fighting they have seen in the region and it is unclear how many were killed but the government claimed victory in this gruesome battle.
Hassan Ibrahim Lugbur, the deputy governor of Bakool region where Ato locates told RFI by phone that over 74 Al-Shebab fighters were killed in the battle.
"Somali forces along with those of the Ethiopian attacked bases manned by Al-Shebab fighters near Ato killing 74 Al-Shebab militia," Lugbur said.
He added that the assault was undoubtedly in retaliation for last week's Al-Shebab raids on bases in a village on Somalia-Ethiopia border, in which 30 Somali and Ethiopian soldiers were killed.
Locals confirmed that a heavy gun battle occurred in the town on late Sunday morning and say that both sides suffered heavy loses.
Al-Shebab officials could not immediately be reached for comment but the movement's Radio Andalus reported that both "invading" Ethiopian and Somali forces met with stiff resistance from Al-Shebab fighters manning the bases.
According to witnesses, Sunday's attack was the bloodiest battle that Ethiopian troops have been involved in since they crossed the border to fight against the Al-Shebab.
"I have seen over 70 people dead mainly from the warring sides," said resident Hassan Mohamed.
Somali government forces, backed by African Union troops, have been battling against the Al Qaeda-linked group in the south and central regions of Somalia since March, capturing more than 10 towns from the militants.