Eyewitnesses and medics on Saturday reported unabated violence and a climbing death toll.

 

"Warring militamen in the capital are fighting heavily for the fourth day and there is no sign of calm," said Ahmed Mohamed Jumale, a resident in Galagalato, a neighbourhood of Karan district in northern Mogadishu where the rival fighters are engaged in battle.

 

Jumale said that the gunmen intensified fighting in order to inflict more casualties on either side before darkness. He said that "the serious fighting erupted at noon".

 

A nurse at Kaisaney Surgical Hospital said that the main medical facility near the battle ground had received 139 casualties since Wednesday when the fighting began, some of whom were treated and discharged.

 

"Five died in our hospital of the injuries they sustained. The rest were treated and left, while some stayed for further treatment," said the nurse, who asked not to be named.

 

Kaisaney is the largest war hospital in Somalia, funded by the International Committee of the Red Cross and run by the Somali Red Crescent Society.

 

Fight over land, ideology

 

"Warring militamen in the capital are fighting heavily for the fourth day and there is no sign of calm"

Ahmed Mohamed Jumale,
Galagalato resident

The fighting was sparked by a row over land ownership in which one militia leader, Abukar Omar Adan, attempted to grab the piece of land attached to the Aisaley airport north of the capital and that is controlled by rival warlord Bashir Raghe Shirar.

 

The two men belong to the Warsangale sub-clan of Abgal within the larger Hawiye which is dominant in Mogadishu and its surroundings, but they have different political affiliations.

 

Adan is allied to the Islamic courts of Mogadishu, which control pockets of the lawless capital, while Shirar is a co-founder of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT).

 

The ARPCT, a coalition of warlords which was formed last month, aims to curb the influence of Islamic extremism in Somalia, while the Islamic militia say they want to maintain law and order.

 

Seizing control of the disputed piece of land would give Adan strategic means to control the roads leading to the natural port of Elmaan, which became the busiest port after the closure of Mogadishu's main port in 1995 over a revenue dispute among warlords.

 

Conflicting reports

 

Somalia has lacked an effective
government since 1991

Adan's spokesman claimed that their side had taken full control of Aisaley airport and its surroundings and urged residents there to return to their homes.

 

"Now we fully control the airport and we inform the residents in the area to be calm and return to their homes," said the spokesman, asking to remain anonymous.

 

But Shirar denied the claims by his rivals. "The allegations are unfounded," he said. "Undeniably the area is highly contested by both sides, but there has been no change of hands at the airport. This is true and cannot be denied."

 

Lawlessness

 

At least 33 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thousands displaced when similar groups clashed in southern Mogadishu last month.

 

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre and has since then been wrecked by chronic unrest with warlords and rival militias fighting for control of unruly fiefdoms.