FIGHTING FLARES IN MOGADISHU, AT LEAST 60 DEAD
By Guled Mohamed
July 10, 2006
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Fighting surged in Mogadishu on Monday between Islamist militias and fighters loyal to the city's last warlords,
pushing the death toll over two days to at least 60 and pounding a key hospital with artillery and gunfire.
Residents feared the death
toll would climb even further in the most ferocious fighting in the capital since the Islamists seized it a month ago from
an alliance of U.S.-backed warlords.
Witnesses said fighters
exchanged rocket, artillery and machinegun fire.
"The hospital is under very
heavy mortar and artillery attack and stray bullets are hitting. Chaos is everywhere in the hospital and staff are running
away," Abdikadir Sheikh, a medical official at Mogadishu's Madina Hospital, told Reuters by phone as artillery and gunfire
crackled behind him.
Sheikh and residents of
Mogadishu's Kilometre Five area said the death toll had risen
by at least 40 and nearly 100 had been wounded since heavy street battles broke out at dawn on Sunday in the neighboring Kilometre
Witnesses said artillery
and mortar shells rained down on Kilometre Five as the battle shifted areas and cut many victims off from Madina.
"The number of dead will
be more than 60 because so many of the injured cannot go to the nearest hospital," a Kilometre Five resident who refused to
give his name said.
Late on Monday, a militia
source said warlord fighters were preparing to surrender their weapons to the Islamists.
"They have accepted to hand
over their weapons...They have been overpowered by the Islamists," former warlord fighter Ibrahim Moallim told Reuters.
The warlord militias could
not be reached directly for confirmation.
Residents said the streets
were empty as militiamen traded automatic weapons fire, and "technicals" -- pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons that
are Somalia's version of tanks -- rolled
forward with their guns blazing.
The battles broke out on
Sunday when the Islamists set a daybreak ambush in Kilometre Four for fighters loyal to Hussein Aideed, an interior minister
in the interim government, and another warlord, Abdi Awale Qaybdiid.
Sources close to Qaybdiid
said he had left his stronghold in the capital and would not reveal his location.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, leader
of the executive arm of the Islamists, had urged the enemy militiamen to lay down their guns.
"We are calling upon Abdi
to end the problems he is bringing to the people of Mogadishu.
He shall go the same way the other warlords went," Ahmed told a press conference.
The Islamists have taken
control of most of the coastal capital and a key swathe of Somalia, posing
a serious threat to the interim government, which is too weak to enter Mogadishu and is now
based in the south-central town of Baidoa.
Both sides are due for a
second round of talks in Khartoum on Saturday. Both sides
are due for a second round of talks in Khartoum on Saturday,
but the fighting appeared to imperil that.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ali
Gedi told the BBC on Monday that the government would not meet hardline Islamists -- repeating comments made to Reuters two
weeks ago -- nor those who broke the ceasefire agreed on at talks in June.
The Islamists want to impose
sharia law across the country and oppose the deployment of foreign peacekeepers, which interim President Abdullahi Yusuf says
is essential to get his government on its feet and pacify the Horn of Africa country.
(Additional reporting by
Mohamed Ali Bile)