5 killed as Islamic insurgents, troops clash in Somalia

Fatalities include government soldier and three people struck by stray bullets on a minibus.

Somalia dead 298. (photo credit: AP)
Somalia dead 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Ethiopian-backed government troops and Islamic insurgents exchanged gunfire in northern Mogadishu early Wednesday, killing at least five people, wounding more than a dozen and ending more than a week of relative calm in this battle-scarred city, officials said. The dead included a government soldier and three people struck by stray bullets on a minibus, according to witnesses and the Somali Red Crescent Society. Mogadishu's dominant clan, the Hawiye, had brokered a cease-fire about 10 days ago to end the worst fighting here in 15 years. Four days of bloodshed that started in late March and killed at least hundreds of people - and possibly more than 1,000. In recent days, Somali and Ethiopian troops have been closing streets in Mogadishu and digging trenches, raising fears that a fresh bout of violence could be imminent. "They are exchanging small gunfire since early this morning," Mogadishu resident Abdullah Ali Hassan said Wednesday. A Hawiye panel reported this week that the recent fighting killed more than 1,000 civilians and wounded 4,300. The estimate was a dramatic escalation in the death toll from the four days of bloodshed. An earlier estimate by a Somali human rights group said more than 1,000 civilians had been killed or wounded. The UN refugee agency says some 124,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February. "We call on the international community, especially the Muslim people, to offer urgent assistance to the Somali people who are suffering in Mogadishu," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Hawiye. The fighting started late last month when Ethiopian troops used tanks and attack helicopters in an offensive to crush insurgents. The insurgents are linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, which was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, accompanied by US special forces. The US has accused the courts of having ties to al-Qaida. The militants reject any secular government, and have sworn to fight until Somalia becomes an Islamic emirate. Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against each other. A national government was established in 2004, but has failed to assert any real control. The recent violence has forced officials to postpone until May 16 a reconciliation conference that had been scheduled for this month, the Arab League's Special Envoy for Somalia, Samir Hosni, told The Associated Press.