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Somalis Skeptical of Peace 'Under Occupation'

One day after Somalia's interim government postponed a national reconciliation conference for the third time in three months, some residents of Mogadishu are expressing doubt the conference can be held while Ethiopian troops are in the country. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Mogadishu reports that a late-night gun battle Wednesday between Ethiopian troops and insurgents in south Mogadishu has caused more people to flee their homes.

Just hours after Somalia's national reconciliation committee announced a month-long delay in peace talks, insurgents in the capital demonstrated why bringing Somalis together is proving to be a struggle for the interim government.

An unknown number of insurgents simultaneously attacked at least three Ethiopian positions in south Mogadishu with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The Ethiopians returned fire, sparking an intense half-hour battle in the streets.

Some homes around the area appeared to have been abandoned overnight. Residents tell VOA that some people, who returned to their homes in recent weeks, have fled the city again, fearing the start of another round of fighting.

An Ethiopia-led security sweep of the city in March and April killed more than 1,500 people and displaced nearly a fifth of Mogadishu's two million residents.

Ali Mohamed Hussein, 42, works as a private security guard in south Mogadishu. He says most insurgents, including Islamist fighters, are Somalis who belong to the locally-dominant Hawiye clan.

Hussein says many clan members oppose the government because it is being protected by Ethiopian troops and is forcing Somalis to live under an occupying force. He says the government has also shown little willingness to reconcile with its perceived enemies.

Hussein says Wednesday's violence shows there is still no peace or stability in the city. He says he does not believe the government can hold a reconciliation conference while some Hawiyes, such as the Islamists, are excluded from the talks and Ethiopians are still in the country.

In another part of the city, truck driver Hassan Abdi Farah, 20, predicts the conference will be postponed indefinitely.

Farah says he is certain the peace talks will not take place in the near future because even the Hawiye clan is divided and unable to agree on anything. He says he believes the only way to bring peace to the country is for the elders of the sub-clans to unite and for Ethiopians to leave Somalia immediately.

Ethiopia says it does not want its troops to stay in Somalia, but that it cannot leave before a full force of African Union peacekeepers replaces its soldiers.

The African Union has committed to sending 8,000 troops, but so far it has only 1,400 troops from Uganda on the ground in the Somali capital.