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AU Mission Blames Weekend Somalia Fighting on Anti-Peace Forces

Weekend fighting in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, described by some accounts as the worst in weeks has reportedly killed 35 people. Mortars and machine-gun fire reportedly pounded Mogadishu as residents fled the city seeking safety.

Major Barigye Bahoku, spokesman for the African Union Mission in Somalia told VOA the fighting was between pro-government Islamist fighters and gunmen seeking to overthrow President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed's new government.

"There have been some skirmishes in Mogadishu, especially in the northern suburbs and parts of Mogadishu for about couple days ago. And the information we have does indicate that the forces of government on the one side and the forces opposed to the peace process on the other side and the clan militias who can fall on either side, are the ones who have been involved in these skirmishes," he said.

Bahoku said part of AMISOM's assignment is to create the atmosphere for rival Somali groups to dialogue, but he said there were forces still opposed to peace in Somalia.

"I think some people do read it wrongly, the mandate of AMISOM. The mandate of AMISOM is to let these people talk, but how far can we go to convince all the sides at any one time to talk. First of all, if lawlessness and the lack of security in Somalia have been going on for about 19 years, and so even when some people have seriously taken the peace process on course and they are talking, there are others who don't fall under the command or control of anyone…so when you say what is AMISOM doing, yes AMISOM has been trying to create conditions for all these people to talk. But as everyone knows, not all the forces have brought on board. There are forces who still opposed to the process," he said.

Bahoku said AMISOM could not confirm the 35 people who reportedly were killed from the weekend fighting because AMISOM has no bases in northern Mogadishu, the center of the weekend fighting.

"As AMISOM it's a bit difficult for us to confirm any figures because as you know, we are in control of about three, four different places in Mogadishu, and these places that we control, or the places that do house our bases are the only places that we can surely comfortably make a positive or negative comment about. So we are not in the northern part of Mogadishu which has been the center or the focus of the skirmishes for the last few days. And therefore we cannot conclusively give the exact figures of the casualties," Bahoku said.

He said AMISOM has not met and has no reason to meet with opposition figure Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys who returned to Mogadishu earlier this month after declaring his opposition to President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed's new government.

"You see, the role of AMISOM is not to meet individuals or members of various organizations. The role of AMISOM on the contrary is to create an environment and possibly give guarantees where individuals or organizations that would want to join the government or would want to join the dialogue to do exactly that. And so we as AMISOM on the ground, we've not been able to talk to Sheik Dahir Aweys," he Bahoku said.

Bahoku said he thinks the Somali peace process has gained some momentum since President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed's new government came to power. But he said the problem of insecurity was still an issue as certain elements were not willing to give the peace process a chance.