'They are shelling each other heavily'

By Sahal Abdulle
Mogadishu - Somali Islamists and pro-government soldiers shelled each other in a second day of fighting on Saturday, witnesses said, a major escalation of violence many fear will erupt into all-out war.
The fighting occurred in Maddoy village about 40km from the interim government's headquarters in Baidoa, the only town it controls in its own country. The two sides fought in the area on Friday, killing at least two bystanders.
He said government forces and Ethiopian troops, pushed back by fighters from the Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC) on Friday, returned to the area early on Saturday with 20 "technicals" N pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons.
The Islamists rule much of southern Somalia under sharia, Islamic law, and want to take over the anarchic nation.
Another resident, Adan Mohamed Nur, told Reuters by telephone that he could hear the fighting going on: "But I do not know who is pushing who."
Islamist spokesperson Abdirahman Ali Mudey confirmed Saturday's fighting, but had no information on casualties: "The war is still going on."
The SICC on Saturday announced by radio a ban on trucks going to Baidoa from Mogadishu, the main port, to cut off the government's food supply. It has already banned fuel shipments.
Salad Ali Jelle, the government's deputy defence minister, said commanders in the field reported no clashes on Saturday.
"But war could start any minute because we are so close to each other," he told Reuters by phone from Baidoa.
He had no details on casualties from Friday's fighting.
The U.N. Security Council this week unanimously approved a controversial resolution backing deployment of peacekeepers, ostensibly to stave off conflict between the Western- and Ethiopian-backed government and the militarily superior SICC.
The Islamists vehemently opposed the resolution, to provide troops to help the government build up its security forces and begin to impose its legal N but as of now, practically non-existent N authority.
The two sides, including what residents said were Ethiopian troops backing the government, fought on Friday in neighbouring Safar Nooley village along a front line the Islamists set up to encircle half of Baidoa.
The rivals competing to rule Somalia have skirmished a few times in the past two months, but many military experts say they have just been testing each other out before a potentially full-blown war that may drag in neighbouring countries.
Ethiopia has denied any involvement, but security experts say the Horn of Africa military power has between 5,000 and 10,000 troops inside Somalia.
The Mogadishu-based Islamists have declared holy war against Ethiopia, whose troops they view as invaders.
The Islamists have threatened to attack any foreign troops, and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has said jihadists should go to Somalia to fight any foreigners who may be deployed.
A recent report to the U.N. said at least nine nations were funnelling vast quantities of military hardware into Somalia, a cauldron where many countries have fought their battles by proxy in the 15 years of anarchy since the last president was ousted.
This time, diplomats and analysts fear Ethiopia and arch-rival Eritrea, which backs the Islamists, will confront each other if their Somali allies go to war.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at9:35 PM


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