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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

SOMALIA: Fresh fighting breaks out in Mogadishu

NAIROBI, 31 May (IRIN) - At least five people were killed and a dozen others wounded when fighting between Islamic court militiamen and forces loyal to an alliance of secular leaders erupted in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, early on Wednesday.

Witnesses said militia allied to the Islamic courts raided the Maslah area in northern Mogadishu's Huriwa District and engaged fighters loyal to Botan Isse Elmi, a local leader and a member of the newly formed coalition, the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. Forces of the anti-terror group were driven out of the Maslah area, and a large garage they had occupied was taken over by court loyalists. Scores of people were seen fleeing from Maslah as the fighting raged.

"At least five dead bodies are lying in the battle area, and about a dozen others are wounded," said an area resident via telephone. "The Islamic court [militia] have driven Botan Isse's militiamen out of the area they occupied in the livestock market, near Maslah road. The area captured includes Orfano garage." The witness wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons. The court loyalists, who arrived in the battle area by public transport, seized five armed vehicles from Botan Isse's men, he said.

Wednesday's fighting broke three days of tentative calm in the city, following a clash on Saturday during which at least 12 people were killed.

The two sides have engaged in intermittent warfare in Mogadishu since 18 February. More than 300 people are believed to have died in the violence, and some 1,500 others have been wounded. On Monday, an armed group occupied a major hospital that offers surgical services to civilians wounded in the fighting in north Mogadishu, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Somali Red Crescent Society.

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, has expressed concern over the targeting of civilians and medical facilities during the fighting and warned that "any deliberate attempt to prevent wounded or civilians receiving assistance and protection during fighting in the city may constitute elements of future war crimes."

Laroche said the fighting had the potential to spread to other areas of southern Somalia and cause more hardship to populations affected by the recent prolonged drought. He said it was "ethically unacceptable" that people could fight in Mogadishu at a time when southern Somalia was experiencing a humanitarian emergency.
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