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More Violence in Mogadishu Ahead of Peace Conference

19 July 2007

More violence erupted in Somalia's capital Thursday as officials prepared to resume a national peace conference.

Witnesses say government troops battled insurgents overnight in Mogadishu's Bakara market, the scene of almost-daily violence in recent weeks.

Residents say insurgents attacked the troops with rockets, grenades, and other weapons. They say the sides exchanged gunfire for nearly an hour before the fighting died down. The extent of casualties was not immediately clear.

Somalia's interim government hopes the much-delayed peace conference can reconcile the country's many clans and factions and restore a measure of security.

The conference opened Sunday, but was adjourned after mortar shells exploded near the conference site, and many delegates failed to show up. Islamist insurgents have threatened to kill anyone attending the meeting.

Abdi Awale, the interim government's ambassador-at-large to the United States, told VOA (English to Africa) the conference will bring about true reconciliation among all Somalis. He dismissed the Islamists as nothing more than gangsters trying to "hoodwink" international public opinion.

The Islamists controlled Mogadishu and many other Somali cities until late last year, when the government ousted them with the help of Ethiopian forces.

The government has since struggled to assert its authority in the face of an Iraqi-style insurgent campaign.

Somalia has been mired in anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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