Mogadishu fighting kills 39

MOGADISHU (AP) — At least 39 people were killed Thursday in renewed fighting in the Somali capital that sent thousands of frightened civilians running from their homes, medical officials and a militia commander said.

According to reports collected from the Somali capital’s main hospitals, at least 30 people were killed when Islamic militias and their secular rivals intensified fighting in Mogadishu Thursday after a day’s lull. Ali Mohammed Siyad, a militia leader of an Islamic militia said his group had lost eight combatants. In addition, Medina Hospital received 60 injured people and Keysaney Hospital 30.

Later Thursday, Sheikhdon Salad Elmi, director of Medina Hospital, said that a mortar landed in the hospital’s first aid section, killing a patient and injuring two others.

Witnesses say the fighting has spread across Mogadishu, from its northern end, which had been the scene of fierce battles in recent weeks, to the southern and eastern parts of the capital.

The latest fighting comes despite a May 14 ceasefire between Islamic militias and a rival alliance of secular warlords.

Civilians caught in the crossfire or struck by stray rockets, shells and bullets had been the main victims of previous fighting in northern Mogadishu. Thursday, thousands of civilians fled their homes on foot, some with children on their backs. Among those fleeing are residents who had left their homes in northern Mogadishu to seek refuge in other parts of the city.

No public transport vehicles were visible and schools remained closed for the second day.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special representative to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, condemned the fighting.

“Somalia is already at war with nature and poverty on a scale that is difficult to conceive,” he said in Nairobi, Kenya. “The last thing this country needs is for its leaders to be fighting among themselves.” Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden told the Associated Press that he was saddened by the escalation.

“We call on both sides, Somalis and the international community to come help stop the fighting,” Aden said.

National Security Minister Mohammed Qanyare Afrah, a key Mogadishu warlord, was quoted Wednesday by the Voice of America as saying that he had resigned from the government following an ultimatum from Prime Minister Ali Mohammad Gedi.

Gedi last week asked Qanyare and three other Mogadishu warlord-Cabinet ministers to join the rest of the government in Baidoa or resign.

Qanyare told the Associated Press later Thursday that he had not resigned and said that his comments had been misinterpreted.

Hussain Gutaleh, an aide to Qanyare, said that what the alliance is doing, “is good for the government … we are paving the way for the smooth arrival of the government in Mogadishu.” The transitional government is presently based in Baidoa, arguing that Mogadishu is too insecure for it to function there.

Sheikh Ali Osman, a commander with the Islamic militias, said that the fighting began after rival militiamen attacked one of their bases in southern Mogadishu.

“Until we get the upper hand we shall not stop fighting because if we do they will not stop fighting and they will target us,” Osman said.

On Wednesday, the rival militiamen renewed fighting in northern Mogadishu for a few hours during which at least six people were killed and another six seriously injured, witnesses and medical workers said.

More than 140 people were killed in eight days of fighting in Mogadishu earlier this month between Islamic militias and the rival alliance of secular warlords.

Witnesses said that Islamic militiamen had taken over a key hotel in the capital Thursday. The Sahafi Hotel is owned by a member of the rival Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.

Somalia has been embroiled in some of the worst fighting in more than a decade in recent weeks.

The fundamentalists portray themselves as capable of bringing order to the country, which has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohammad Siad Barre in 1991.

The Islamic militia’s growth in popularity and strength, and the possibility that they have outside support, is reminiscent of the rise of the Taleban in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

The secular alliance, which includes members of a UN-backed interim government but acts independently of it, accuses the Islamic militiamen of having ties to Al Qaeda. The Islamic group accuses the secularists of being puppets of the United States.

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