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Fighting Intensifies in Somalia's Capital

Fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents in Somalia is intensifying, with media reports indicating that at least 52 civilians were killed Saturday. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Mortar shells and machine gun fire bounced back and forth between Ethiopian soldiers and the insurgents around the presidential palace in the southern part of the capital.

The French news agency quotes a Somali group, the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization, as saying that this and other such exchanges claimed more than a 160 people since Wednesday.

The group is calling on both sides to stop fighting immediately, without precondition.

Witnesses told the French news agency that they had seen several dismembered bodies in the battle zone.

Other witnesses say a mortar hit a packed passenger bus in the Hodan district of Mogadishu, killing several people.

The spokesman for the African Union's peacekeeping force in Somalia, Captain Paddy Ankunda, describes to VOA the situation in Mogadishu. "We hear gunfire and a lot of bombing. We can see smoke that is flaring in the air and, really, explosions have now become probably part of our daily life here. But we hope that the situation will subside as we continue to engage both parties to renounce violence," he said.

Ankunda did not have details on the causes of Saturday's fighting.

Mogadishu has been wracked by violence since the end of last year, when Ethiopian troops helped Somalia's interim government expel a rival Islamist movement from power. Since then, Islamist and clan-based militias have launched numerous attacks on government-related targets.

Insurgents have also been attacking the 1,500 Ugandan soldiers stationed in Mogadishu as part of the African Union's peacekeeping mission.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Friday for more world support for African Union peacekeepers in Somalia.