SOMALIA: Fighting erupts in Mogadishu as gov't collects illegal guns
NAIROBI, 21 March 2007 (IRIN) - Hundreds of families fled their homes in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on Wednesday as fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and unidentified insurgents raged on, claiming the lives of at least 34 people, local sources told IRIN.
Another 92 people were reportedly wounded in the fighting, which started at about 6am on Wednesday, hospital sources said.
The fighting erupted in Shirkole, south of the city, when government forces tried to extend their control over the area, said an eyewitness.
"They [government forces] came less than an hour after morning prayers [5am]. As soon as they tried to move into the area they met stiff resistance [from residents]," he said. Government forces were pushed back, towards the former defence ministry headquarters, where Ethiopian troops are based, he said, adding that residents were "quickly joined by courts militias [remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts]".
The government said it was carrying out a security operation to collect illegal weapons from the residents.
"This is part of a security operation to secure the city," said Madobe Nuunow Muhammad, Minister of Information.
He said the government had given the population enough time "to surrender weapons peacefully but that did not happen".
Muhammad said the operation "will continue until the city is secure and government is in full control".
A doctor, who confirmed the number of the dead, said almost 60 percent of those killed and injured were women and children.
"These are the numbers from the hospitals since the fighting started this morning," the doctor said. "We don't know about the number of people killed and wounded in the conflict areas who did not make it to hospitals."
He added that the death toll was likely to rise.
A local journalist, who declined to be named, said the latest fighting was heaviest since the Transitional Federal Government took over the city in late December 2006. "It is no longer a hit-and-run thing but two groups of fighters facing each other," he added.
He said the fighting, which was intense in the early part of Wednesday, subsided for a couple of hours, allowing people to flee but resumed again and spread to other parts of the city.
Another eyewitness said the fighting had spread to the northern part of the city. "There is now intense fighting going on around Gurgurte and Ramadan hotels [north Mogadishu]."
He said many families were trying to get out of the conflict zone. "It is a very confused situation. People are wandering from one area to another hoping that it would be safer."
There were reports of prisoners taken by both sides and bodies of dead Ethiopian and government soldiers being dragged through the streets.
"I have seen up to 30 government soldiers captured," the journalist said.
Copyright © IRIN 2007
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