Calm returns to Somalia

AFP
MOGADISHU - Calm returned in southern Somalia after two days of deadly and escalating conflict between forces backing the weak government and powerful Islamists, residents said.
But rival fighters kept a distance of about three kilometres between them, ready for a possible resumption of fighting near the government base in Baidoa, about 250 kilometres northwest of the capital.
"Today the situation is calm and rival militiamen are three kilometres apart," said Zeiynab Abuka, a fuel trader in Safarnooles village, which was the theatre of the clashes. "But fighting can resume at anytime," she said.
Despite the lull to the clashes, residents said they would prepare to flee given the growing tension between the government and the Islamists, who control much of southern and central Somalia.
"We are ready to flee if fighting resumes again," said Moalim Yusuf, an elder in the region. "War clouds are hanging over us everyday, but we all hope Allah will save us." Rival commanders were unreachable for comment, but it was unlikely there will be a truce.
Combat erupted on Friday when government fighters, backed by Ethiopian forces, attacked Islamic fighters in an attempt to take control of Dinsoor township, 110 kilometres south of Baidoa.
Both sides confirmed casualties from the fighting, with the Islamists saying a total of 50 people had died - 30 government troops and 20 Islamists - but there was no independent confirmation. The government said some of its troops had been killed, but refused to give the figure.
The Islamists have declared holy war on Ethiopian forces deployed to protect the government. Many fear a full-scale war could erupt in Somalia and spread throughout the Horn of Africa, drawing in Ethiopia and its arch-foe Eritrea, which denies backing the Islamists, who are accused of links to the Al-Qaeda network.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Siad Barre and the two-year-old government has failed to exert its control across the nation of 10 million people
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