Fighting has resumed in the Somali capital Mogadishu, where Islamist
insurgents fired mortars at the presidential palace. More than 50
people have now been killed in fighting between insurgents and
pro-government forces since Thursday.
For the fifth day, Islamist insurgents exchanged machine gun and mortar fire with government troops and allied militias. Hours after Somali president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed held a news conference at his Mogadishu residence, Islamist insurgents fired several mortars into the compound. Insurgents also attacked a base housing African Union peacekeepers from Burundi, and gun battles took place in several areas of the city.
Latest round of fighting is fiercest
The latest round of fighting is the fiercest that Mogadishu has seen in months, bringing activity in much of the capital to a standstill. Witnesses say the clashes have left more than 200 people wounded and prompted the largest wave of people to flee the city since the start of the year.
The President of Somalia's fragile government, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, says the government will defend the country's sovereignty and use any means necessary to stop the fighting. He accused foreign countries of pursuing their own interests in Somalia. While he did not name any countries, the government has accused Eritrea of funneling arms to the insurgents.
Insurgents control key locations
Witnesses say insurgents have taken control of several key locations in the capital, including the stadium, the defense ministry and a police station.
But on Sunday Somalia Information Minister Farhan Mohamoud denied the reports. He blamed the violence on foreign fighters within the insurgency.
Groups opposed to peace attacked government bases and Somali social centers, he said. These fighters want to turn the country over to foreigners. Somalis and the international community should realize that the leaders of the fighting are foreigners.
Link to al-Qaida
Al-Shabab, in particular, has ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, and Western governments have expressed concern about foreign terrorists using Somalia, much of which is under the control of al-Shabab, as a haven. Al-Shabab has been joined in the latest clashes by members of Hizbul Islam, a coalition of hardline Islamist militias.
The Somali government has international backing but exercises little control on the ground. Under President Sharif, a moderate Islamist and a former insurgent leader who took office in January, the government has been trying to reconcile with other Islamist factions, but has vowed to take a harder stance in recent weeks, as insurgents have continued to carry out attacks.
An al-Shabab leader, Ali Dheere Mohamud, said the government was beholden to its international backers.
The media claims the fighting is between Islamic fighters, he said, but that is wrong. It is between Islamic fighters and apostates who work for the Ugandan and Burundian troops who help the American and other Western governments. Their goal in the fighting is to eradicate Muslims from Somalia.
Peacekeepers make little impact
About 4,300 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are deployed in the capital. Undermanned, they have had little success in stemming the violence, and have become an increasing target for insurgents, particularly since Ethiopian troops withdrew from the country in January.
Thousands have died, and an estimated one million have been displaced since the Islamist insurgency began in 2006. That chapter of violence was just the latest in a country that has been without a proper central government since 1991. Last month, international donors pledged over $200 million to improve security in Somali.