Islamic fighting resumes in Somalia

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MOGADHISU, Somalia (AP) – Islamic militiamen and rival secular fighters traded machine-gun, rocket and mortar fire in Somalia’s capital Saturday, killing at least eight and wounding a dozen as residents fled on foot or in hired minivans.

But the fighting was lighter one day after hundreds of residents fled some of the fiercest battles in Mogadishu in 14 years.

The violence Saturday – which hospital worker Ali Bile said killed at least eight and wounded at least 12 – stopped in southern Mogadishu after several hours. Sporadic gunfire continued in the northern part of the city.

Residents of one district in northern Mogadishu took advantage of the limited fighting to leave the capital on foot or in vans, some carrying household items.

Other Mogadishu residents were stranded because they had no money or had to tend to injured family members.

“We have nowhere to go … I and my children do not have enough food,” said Medina Hassan, who was tending to her husband at Al Hikma Hospital in a part of southern Mogadishu that was peaceful Saturday.

Hassan said she fled northern Mogadishu, where her husband was injured, to seek shelter with relatives in the southern part of the city.

“Our new place is no more safe,” she said. “Really, I am fed up with the life in this burning city,” she said.

Public Works Minister Osman Hasan Ali Ato and other officials began efforts Saturday to mediate between the warring sides.

Ato, who is also a warlord, arrived from the southern town of Baidoa, 155 miles northwest of Mogadishu, where the government is based.

“We couldn’t watch the blood of our innocent people flow and that is why we are here,” he told journalists in the capital, after meeting with officials of the Islamic Courts Union, which controls the Islamic militias that are battling secular warlords.

“We have the confidence of both sides and they have accepted our mediation, so I hope they will take the path of peace with us,” Ato said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi ordered four Cabinet ministers who also are key Mogadishu warlords to resume their duties within seven days and join the rest of the government in Baidoa or face prosecution.

The ministers – members of the secular Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism – were not immediately available for comment.

Gedi gave the same four ministers a similar ultimatum on May 17, which they ignored.

The prime minister’s U.N.-backed government has not been able to assert authority over Somalia, which has been embroiled in clan fighting and without a real government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Islamic fundamentalists reject the government because it is not based on Islam, and portray themselves as a force capable of bringing order to the country. They accuse the secular alliance of working for the CIA, while the alliance accuses the self-appointed Islamic court leaders of links to al-Qaida.

U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly refused to confirm or deny any association with the secular alliance.

AP-ES-05-27-06 1718EDT


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