The African Union says a peace pact formally signed on Monday between the Somali government and an opposition faction is a significant step toward peace in Somalia. But fresh attacks by militant Islamists in the Somali capital Mogadishu and in the southern port city of Kismayo are continuing to underscore the weakness of the accord. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
In a written statement, the African Union pledged to work closely with the United Nations, Somalia's transitional government, and other stakeholders to ensure the rapid deployment of a U.N. stabilization force in Somalia and to bring an end to the violence in the East African country.
The deployment of U.N. troops in the next two months form the cornerstone of a peace deal reached at U.N.-sponsored talks in Djibouti in June between Somalia's Ethiopia-backed government and a moderate faction of an Islamist-led opposition group called the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia.
The head of the opposition faction, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, says that he endorsed the deal because a U.N. troop deployment would allow thousands of Ethiopian soldiers to withdraw from Somalia.
The Ethiopians arrived in late 2006 to oust Somalia's Islamic Courts Union from power and to support the government in Mogadishu. But their presence on Somali soil has fueled an Islamist-led insurgency that has killed more than 8,000 people and has displaced more than one million others.
But opposition hardliners and their allies, including the militant Shabab insurgent group the United States has designated as a foreign terrorist organization, have rejected the peace accord. They have continued fighting government and Ethiopian forces in the capital Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country, seizing a number of towns in southern and central Somalia in recent months.
An editor at Shabelle Media in Mogadishu, Abdirahman Yusuf, tells VOA that on Thursday, the Shabab launched a massive mortar attack on President Abdullahi Yusuf's residence and attacked government and Ethiopian troop positions in Mogadishu. He says the Ethiopians retaliated with devastating firepower.
Yusuf says multiple artillery rounds hit Mogadishu's open-air Bakara market, where Ethiopians believe the Shabab fighters are based. He says more than 10 people are believed to have been killed inside the market and another six civilians died when a shell landed on the grounds of a mosque.
Meanwhile, reports from the southern port town of Kismayo say as many as 30 people may have been killed in two days of heavy fighting between the Shabab and a locally-dominant clan militia.
Kismayo-based journalist, Sarah Abdi Ahmed, says the fighting erupted on Wednesday after a landmine, believed to have been planted by the Shabab, exploded near a truck carrying clan militiamen.
Ahmed says 13 people were killed on Thursday morning and more than 40 people wounded. She says wounded fighters on both sides, as well as civilians, have filled up the local hospital.
A journalist working for Somalia's Radio Garowe in Kismayo reports that the Shabab is now in control of 80 percent of Kismayo town. But VOA has not been able to verify that claim.