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Monday, September 04, 2006

Five killed as Somali govt, militia clash

BAIDOA, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Gunmen loyal to Somalia's interim government battled local militias in its temporary capital of Baidoa on Monday, in clashes that killed at least five gunmen and wounded seven, officials and witnesses said.

Fierce gunbattles broke out near the airport as 100 policemen fought local militiamen who set up road-blocks to extract money from travellers.

"These militias were extorting money from people," said a source close to the government who declined to be named.

"A decision was reached last night to expel the militia from the airport. It was a quick operation."

A Reuters witness saw five dead militiamen wearing blood-soaked white clothes at the airport.

Monday's fighting and the fatal shooting of a minister in July in Baidoa have raised concerns about the ability of President Abdullahi Yusuf's government to secure its own base.

The fractious administration is already under pressure from rival Islamists who seized Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords in June and now control huge swathes of southern Somalia.

"I was asleep when suddenly I heard shots," said Ahmed Adan, a wounded militiaman, who lay writhing in pain in Baidoa's hospital.

"Policemen were firing at us and we were forced to return fire and that's when I was injured. One of those fighting alongside me was killed instantly. It was horrible," he said.

Many wounded militiamen said they had not been paid and were given the green light by local authorities to collect "taxes".

The interim government is the 14th attempt to restore central order to the nation since the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 plunged the Horn of Africa nation into anarchy.

The government and the Islamists are meeting in Sudan this week for peace talks.
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