Violence flares day after Somali peace meeting opens

Attackers targeting Somali police and government soldiers killed at least four people in Mogadishu on Monday, witnesses said, a day after mortar attacks punctuated the opening of a much-delayed peace meeting.

In one incident, grenades were lobbed at police patrolling the central Bakara market, killing at least two civilians and wounding three officers, trader Abas Mohamed said.

“The police opened fire after they were attacked with the grenades,” he told Reuters.

In a separate attack close to the market, gunmen opened fire on two soldiers, killing one and wounding the other who fled on foot. The gunmen gave chase and killed him, another witness said.

“The men took the guns belonging to the two military officers,” the witness, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.

He said a few hours after the attack police took the bodies away and arrested several people at the scene.

“They took us to Howlwadag police station and took our pictures. They released us but threatened to kill us if we were anywhere near an explosion,” he said.

“I’m afraid for my life.
I want to flee the city.”

Insecurity has twice postponed the opening ceremony of a landmark national reconciliation meeting, which finally went ahead as planned on Sunday.

But officials adjourned the talks until Thursday to wait for more delegates to arrive in the capital.

The adjournment was called moments after suspected Islamist insurgents fired mortar bombs near the venue where President Abdullahi Yusuf was addressing delegates.

The meeting is seen as the interim government’s last hope at securing peace and strengthening its legitimacy across the Horn of Africa nation where clan-fuelled violence has foiled 13 previous attempts at restoring central rule.

Formed in late 2004, Yusuf’s administration has struggled to stamp its authority on the country of 8,8-million since ousting a hard-line Islamist movement from Mogadishu in the New Year.

It hopes that by drawing Somalia’s myriad clans to talks on reconciliation, disarmament and wealth-sharing, it can win broad support.

But many Somalis say it should be talking to the Islamists, whose fighters have a waged an Iraq-style insurgency to try to restore Islamic rule.—Reuters

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