At least 20 killed in Somalia's capital

Government soldiers battle Islamists in Mogadishu

March 22, 2007|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAIROBI, Kenya -- In some of the bloodiest fighting in months, at least 20 people were killed yesterday in Somalia's capital. The dead included seven government soldiers, some of whose bodies were dragged through the streets and set on fire, witnesses said.

The gruesome scene was reminiscent of the 1993 crash of a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter in Mogadishu during an ill-fated mission that killed 18 American servicemen.

The latest clashes began after government soldiers, aided by Ethiopian troops, launched an early morning raid on the outskirts of town. They encountered stiff resistance from gunmen believed to be remnants of the Islamic Courts Union.

The Islamic alliance, accused by U.S. officials of having links to al-Qaida, was driven out of Mogadishu in December. However, some fighters have moved underground and are attempting to launch an insurgency against the government. They are calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Though U.S. and U.N. officials had expressed hope that the brief Ethiopian-led war against the Islamists would restore peace and security to Somalia after 16 years of clan war and anarchy, the Horn of Africa nation appears to be slipping back into chaos.

Amid near-daily mortar attacks and shootouts on the streets of Mogadishu, residents complain that violence is the worst it has been in years, despite the presence of Ethiopian and Africa Union troops to assist Somalia's weak transitional government.

Tens of thousands of Somalis continued to flee the country in recent months, according to refugee groups. Last month, bandits hijacked a World Food Program ship delivering rations to Somalia's hungry.

"At least we had peace during the time of the Islamic Courts Union," said Halima Abdi, a single mother of six. "If the government and Ethiopian troops are not going to keep the security, they should leave."

Hospital officials said they were treating dozens of civilian victims caught up in yesterday's fight.

Local journalists and photographers reported seeing the bodies of at least two uniformed soldiers being dragged by a rope, stoned and then set on fire.

Shabelle Media Network, a Somali news agency, posted pictures yesterday that it said depicted the bodies of Ethiopian and Somali government soldiers being dragged.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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