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Somalia Insurgents Hit Hard for Third Day

12 February 2007

In Somalia, insurgents opposed to the interim government and its Ethiopian allies launched rocket and mortar attacks for the third straight day in several areas of the capital, Mogadishu, further threatening the stability of the Horn of Africa country. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The latest fighting began overnight, when insurgents fired rockets at the presidential palace and a short time later attacked a police station with rocket-propelled grenades.

Witnesses say government troops and police responded with artillery and gunfire, triggering a battle that lasted several hours. A mortar, possibly meant to hit a building housing Ethiopian troops, slammed into a home, killing a man and his son as they slept.

The violence came hours after a bomb exploded Sunday in the port city of Kismayo, about 500 kilometers south of Mogadishu. Thousands were attending a rally to support a proposed African peacekeeping mission to Somalia, when an explosion ripped through the crowd, killing and wounding nearly a dozen people.

On Saturday, at least seven people were killed in rocket and mortar attacks in and around the main airport in Mogadishu.

The three days of attacks were the heaviest since Ethiopian and Somali government troops ousted Somalia's radical Islamist movement in late December.

An Islamist group calling itself the People's Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations has claimed responsibility for much of the recent violence. The group has called for war against Ethiopian troops in Somalia and has threatened to kill any peacekeeper who steps foot on Somali soil.

The People's Resistance Movement formed after Somali Islamists, who held much of the country under strict religious rule for nearly seven months, lost power to the U.N.-recognized, secular interim government.

Little is known about the new insurgent group. But Somali journalist Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says core members are believed to be hardline supporters of the vanquished Islamic Courts Union. "Many believe that the Islamic Courts Union may have a link with what is going on because they vowed long and endless, Iraq-style guerrilla warfare," he said.

Meanwhile, a top Islamist leader, who surrendered to U.S. and Kenyan authorities last month, has traveled from Kenya to Yemen, allegedly under a deal aimed at securing the freedom of more than a dozen U.S. troops captured by Islamist forces in early January.

The unconfirmed report, which appeared in an Arabic-language newspaper in Yemen, says the United States agreed to allow Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed to go to Yemen in exchange for the release of the U.S. servicemen. They were allegedly seized around the Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni, near Somalia's border with Kenya, while the United States carried out air strikes in the area.

The air strikes targeted, but failed to kill, several radical leaders of the Islamic Courts Union and three al-Qaida terrorists on the U.S. most-wanted list.

The Pentagon has repeatedly said that no U.S. ground troops were deployed in Somalia.

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