Twelve killed in Mogadishu fighting

Mogadishu - Twelve Somalis, many of them civilians, were killed and 19 wounded in clashes between government forces and Islamist insurgents in Mogadishu, officials and witnesses told reporters on Wednesday.

A group of armed insurgents attacked government forces manning a checkpoint in the northern neighbourhood of Sinay late on Tuesday while fighting also erupted in the Madina district, the sources said.

"The stooges of the enemies of Allah attacked our forces in a police station in Madina neighbourhood and we repelled them," Islamist commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim said, referring to the government's support for Ethiopia's two-year occupation of the country.

"They opened indiscriminate fire on areas populated by civilians, killing innocents," said the commander, from a faction close to hardline Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

"I saw the bodies of two soldiers on the street in Madina and several others were also wounded near my house," local resident Hared Ahmed said.

Several other witnesses gave at least the same death toll for the incident.

A government official argued that his forces were attacked first.

"The Islamists also attacked residents in Madina neighbourhood and we defended ourselves and that is what we are going to do," said Wadajir district commissioner Ahmed Hasan Daci, whose forces were involved in the fighting.

Witnesses said residents had started fleeing the area as both sides reinforced their positions, sparking fears of further clashes.

In another incident, Islamist insurgents took over a checkpoint manned by government forces in the Sinay district following an intense exchange of fire.

"The Somali government forces were defeated in Sinay and their checkpoint was taken by the Islamists. Three soldiers and an Islamist fighter died in the area," eyewitness Yusuf Abdallah said.

Medics told reporters that at least 19 wounded civilians were hospitalised following on Tuesday night's fighting in the capital, including one who later died of injuries sustained during the violence in Madina.

Ethiopian troops, who had invaded Somalia in late 2006 to prop up a weak transitional government and remove an Islamist militia from power, pulled out of Mogadishu earlier this month.

Their withdrawal had been one of the main demands of the country's Islamist-led opposition, but hardline militias have vowed to continue fighting against government forces and African peacekeepers.

The Ethiopian forces' pullout has also created a security vacuum drawing clan-based militias and warlords into a scramble for control over the capital's various districts. - AFP

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