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Somali Capital Assesses Damage After Days of Clashes


Thousands of civilians have been displaced from their homes in the Somali capital following five days of fighting between Islamist insurgents and pro-government forces. The past week has seen the most sustained assault by the insurgency in months, but divisions between the Islamist militias may also be growing.

Residents of Mogadishu were on Tuesday assessing the toll of five straight days of fighting that pitted the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam militias against government soldiers and their backers.

At least 14 people were reported killed in overnight clashes but relative calm returned to the capital later on Tuesday. A local human rights group said that at least 113 civilians have been killed and 330 wounded since Thursday, and that some 27,000 have been displaced from their homes.

According to other reports, the number of dead was lower, but nobody denies that the latest wave of fighting is the worst the capital has seen in months or that it represents the Islamist insurgency's most sustained challenge to the moderate Islamist government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who took office in January.

On Monday, President Sharif said the government would do everything it can to stop the fighting.

He rejected the insurgents claim that they are fighting in the name of Islam. He said his government has introduced Sharia law in the country, the first time a Somali government has done so, and said that Islam does not condone killing government officials and soldiers.

On Tuesday, Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad, known as Indha'ade, a powerful Islamist warlord said that he was handing over his weapons and forces to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a leader of Hizbul Islam, a coalition of opposition militias. Only last week, Indha'ade had met with President Sharif and pledged to support the government.

But the move may have also sown divisions within the Islamist movement. According to local media reports, al-Shabab leaders were upset with Indha'ade's decision and are trying to seize the weapons.

In his statement on Monday, President Sharif also blamed foreign governments for supporting the insurgents. The United Nations' envoy for Somalia also criticized "irresponsible elements backed by foreigners" in a statement condemning the latest violence. Neither referred to a specific country, but the Somali government has recently accused Eritrea of sending arms to the insurgents.

President Sharif, a moderate Islamist and former insurgent leader enjoys international backing and considerable popularity among Somalis at home and abroad. But his government exercises little direct control on the ground.

The country has been without an effective central government since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was driven from power.

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