Some shops closed and Mogadishu's bullet-scarred streets remained empty on Friday after at least 50 people were killed in an intense artillery duel between Muslim militiamen and fighters for local commanders who say they have joined forces to fight terrorism.

Residents said the Muslim militia appeared to have taken control of more territory, as they have in each of earlier three rounds of fighting since February.

At least 300 people, mostly civilians, have died.

This week's fighting, in which mortars, grenades and anti-aircraft guns were fired, erupted late on Tuesday and intensified until Thursday as it spread across the capital, sending scores of people fleeing.

At least 120 people were wounded, hospitals said.

Chaos in Mogadishu made it difficult to verify whether more people had been killed overnight.

Witnesses said a few more people, carrying basic possessions, tried to leave on Friday as fighting subsided.

Battleground

Gunshots could be heard but not heavy artillery.

"Mogadishu has been turned into a battleground. So many people have been killed by stray bullets, mortar and other missiles thrown by the fighters," Farhan Gure, resident of Kilometre Four area, told Reuters by phone.

Muslim militiamen seem to have
taken control of more territory

The Muslim fighters routed the secular militias from that critical junction of the city on Thursday while seizing the Sahafi hotel in the area, owned by a local secular commander.

It was another territorial victory for the militia, linked to influential Sharia courts in the city.

"The Islamic Court militia have taken the upper hand since yesterday in the fighting in Kilometre Four and its surrounding areas. They are also in control in the north," Gure said.

"The warlord alliance have been pushed away from the city centre but people fear more clashes."

Neither side was immediately reachable for comment.

CIA involvement alleged

Some diplomats and analysts view the violence - laced with commercial and political interests - as a proxy war between Washington and Muslim militiamen.

Africa Confidential, an influential London-based newsletter, on Friday reported the US Central Intelligence Agency had flown several hundred thousand dollars into Isaley
airstrip in January and February to fund the secular commanders' alliance.
 
The CIA also handed over a list of al-Qaeda suspects it believed to be in Mogadishu, the newsletter said.

"We hear that the sacked Central Intelligence Agency Director, Porter Goss, visited Somalia in February after a trip to Kenya. CIA staff certainly helped to organise the alliance"

Africa Confidential,
London-based newsletter

"We hear that the sacked Central Intelligence Agency director, Porter Goss, visited Somalia in February after a trip to Kenya. CIA staff certainly helped to organise the alliance," the newsletter said, without citing its sources.

It said operations were run out of the US embassy in Nairobi, which is responsible for neighbouring Somalia.

US officials have never directly answered the allegations but said Washington will work with anyone it considers an anti-terrorism ally.
   
The coalition says the militia are harbouring al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and some Western diplomats believe al-Qaeda operatives are there and run training camps.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a leading Islamist on America's most wanted terrorists list, told Reuters from Mogadishu this week the charges were "pure propaganda".

Washington has long viewed Somalia, without any real government since the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, as a terrorist haven.