Heavy fighting erupts in Mogadishu

Fighters attack Somali government in Mogadishu as Uganda peacekeepers arrive.

    Ugandan forces will help to restore law and order as fighting continues on a daily basis [AFP]

    Heavily fortified base


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    The AFP news agency reported a total of three dead in the attack on the base.


    Mohamed Ismail, a garage owner who lives near the compound, told the agency: "Three people were killed. One civilian and two gunmen were  killed during the shoot out."


    Khadra Aden, a Mogadishu resident, confirmed the killings occured near the heavily fortified base.


    Aden said: "I have seen two gunmen killed and they were collected for burial by other gunmen. A civilian was also killed."
    Ahmed Balbal, a trader, said: "Six people were wounded in the shoot out. Two were insurgents and the other four were civilians."


    Witnesses said the clashes started after gunmen attacked the base using heavy machine guns, prompting the forces to respond with heavy artillery fire.


    Continuing violence


    It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in the earlier mortar strikes on Mogadishu's international airport.


    One reporter said gunmen launched eight mortars, but only two struck the airport. People at the airport scattered immediately at the sound of the first blast.


    Somalia's deputy defense minister, Salad Ali Jelle, refused to comment, saying officials were investigating.


    Al Jazeera's correspondent in Mogadishu, Mohammed Adow, said the attacks were the latest in a string of operations against the government and the allied Ethiopian troops.


    The attacks are being undertaken by remnants of the Islamic courts movement joined by clan militias, some of whom are not happy with the Somali interim government.


    "We are not imposing anything on Somalis. We know our mandate; we will work toward restoring law and order in Somalia"

    Paddy Akunda, Ugandan forces' spokesman

    The Islamic courts fighters, defeated in a December confrontation with the government and Ethiopian troops, supported by clan militiamen, have vowed to attack any peacekeepers or government allies.


    Skirmishes have occurred on an almost daily basis since the government took over the capital in late December.


    Ugandan support


    The Ugandans are the vanguard of an African Union force to help the government tame a country mired in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre.


    The last peacekeeping mission there, a US-UN operation, ended in the mid-1990s after relentless fighting with heavily armed local militiamen.


    Paddy Akunda, the Ugandan forces' spokesman, said 400 troops were on the ground so far in Mogadishu, with the remaining 1,100 expected in the next 24 hours.


    "We are very happy to be the first African Union peacekeepers to Somalia. We are welcomed here," Akunda said during the ceremony.


    "We are not imposing anything on Somalis. We know our mandate; we will work toward restoring law and order in Somalia without targeting anybody."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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