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More than 20 killed in Mogadishu weekend fighting


At least 15 civilians, two African Union soldiers and six foreign fighters were killed in weekend fighting in Mogadishu, witnesses, medical and security sources said on Sunday.

The African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said the fighting was triggered by its discovery of a mile-long trench system used by the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgents in the capital.

The force said in a statement the Shebab were "using the trench and tunnel system to infiltrate fighters closer to AMISOM positions without detection. It also acted as a protected logistic resupply and casualty evacuation route."

The Shebab "counter-attacked in a desperate attempt to recover this vital asset," AMISOM said in a statement, triggering two days of intense clashes pitting rebels against Somali soldiers backed by AMISOM.

Both sides claimed victory in the fighting, which kicked off before dawn on Saturday and claimed its customary toll on civilians, killing at least 15 of them over two days.

Ali Muse, who heads Mogadishu's ambulance services, told AFP his teams had collected the bodies of four civilians on Saturday and five more on Sunday.

Most of the fighting was centered around the southern districts of Hodan and Holwadag but shells also strayed into neighbouring districts.

Witnesses said six other civilians, three of them siblings, died after a mortar shell struck their home.

"There has been heavy shelling and exchanges of gunfire in Holwadag district since last night. This morning three civilians died after a mortar shell hit their house in Bakara while two others were caught in the crossfire nearby," Hasan Mahbub, a local resident, said.

Abdi Osmail, another witness, said his brother was also killed as he rushed to open his shop in Bakara market, a Shebab stronghold.

"People are dying for no reason, even far from where the fighting is going on. My younger brother... was hit by a stray bullet as he was going to open his shop," he said.

Abdikarin Yusuf Adan, Somalia's deputy army chief of staff, told reporters the military would continue to battle the insurgents until the Shebab threat was completely eliminated.

"We are achieving some landmarks in the fight against the violent elements and we will continue fighting until we rid the country of the Shebab," he said.

AMISOM also hailed the closure of the trench and tunnel system as "a major step forward in the stabilisation effort in the city," which has been battered by two decades of almost uninterrupted conflict.

As is always the case when fighting breaks out in Mogadishu, the other side also claimed to have the upper hand.

"The invading Christian forces and their apostate allies attacked our positions yesterday and we struck back late yesterday, inflicting heavy losses on them," Sheikh Abdulasis Abu Musaab, a Shebab spokesman, told reporters.

"The reports we are getting from our mujahideen (holy warriors) commanders indicate that at least fifteen Christian soldiers were killed and many of their apostate allies. We have also seized arms caches containing machineguns."

Death tolls are difficult to check independently in Mogadishu.

The Shebab accuse the country's transitional government of being stooges of the West and the African Union contingent of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers of being on a crusade against Muslim Somalia.

The AU force however painted a different picture, claiming to have killed six foreign fighters combating alongside the Shebab.

"AMISOM can confirm that at least six foreign Al Qaeda-connected commanders have been killed and dozens of Shebab fighters have been wounded," it said in its statement.

It provided the names of the alleged foreign fighters, who originated from Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, Syria and India.

The clashes came after a period of relative calm in Mogadishu, where Shebab insurgents have been trying to break the weak Western-backed transitional federal government's last defences for close to two years.