At least six people have been killed in fighting between Islamist militants and government forces north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.  Since insurgents launched a new offensive in early May, Somalia has seen nearly daily clashes between the two sides. 

A spokesman for the al-Shabab Islamist insurgent group, Ali Muhamud Rage, said the group had captured a key checkpoint near the village of Galgalato, on a main road leading north out of Mogadishu.

In the early morning, he said, al-Shabab fighters took control of the area from apostates.  He said the insurgents seized several weapons and three vehicles from government forces.

A spokesperson for the Somali government has denied the Galgalato checkpoint was captured.

Hundreds killed

More than 200 people have been killed since the latest wave of fighting between insurgents and pro-government forces began in early May.  The United Nations says more than 120,000 people have fled their homes, a concentration of displacement that is unprecedented in recent years.

The insurgents militias, including al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, say the fragile, internationally backed government of President Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is not committed to Islamist principles and is too close to the United States and Ethiopia.

Insurgents reject Sharia law

President Ahmed, a moderate Islamist and former insurgent leader, has introduced Sharia law in the country, a move that has earned support from many Islamic leaders but has been rejected as not enough by the insurgents.

The insurgents are also opposed to the presence of African Union peacekeepers in the country.  There are about 4,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in the capital. 

Peacekeeping mission in question

On Monday, the African Union extended the mission's mandate to mid-January.  The African Union has asked the United Nations to take over responsibility for peacekeeping, but the United Nations has said the security situation in the country remains too fragile.

The African Union also criticized the presence of foreign fighters within the insurgency.  Al-Shabab has ties to al-Qaida and numerous fighters from other countries are believed to have entered the country.

Meanwhile, the U.N. World Food Program says it has started an investigation into reports that food aid to Somalia has been resold, rather than distributed.  There have been reports that corn, oil and wheat meant to be distributed to displaced people has turned up for sale in Mogadishu markets.  A trader told British Channel Four television that he bought food directly from WFP workers.