/ 20 April 2008

Somali clashes kill at least 20

Somali Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian troops exchanged mortar fire on Sunday in some of the heaviest clashes in months with at least 20 people killed in the last 24 hours, residents and witnesses said.

The fighting was fiercest in the Islamist stronghold of northern Mogadishu. Residents said the two sides, which had reinforced positions overnight, exchanged heavy fire in the early hours of Sunday around the Save Our Souls (SOS) Hospital.

”A mortar shell landed on a house just behind SOS hospital, killing an old man and seriously wounding his wife along with her three children,” said a medical worker who declined to be named.

”As we were running to help this family we saw an unidentified dead man lying on the ground,” he added.

Health workers in various hospitals said they were treating scores of patients wounded in fighting. Residents said at least 15 people were killed on Saturday, including seven militants and two Ethiopian soldiers.

One witness said he saw the bodies of four men near the main livestock market, adding that no one had dared to take the bodies away ”because the whole place is under Ethiopian siege”.

Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein expressed regret for Somalis forced to flee the violence, but said his interim government and its Ethiopian allies had the right to self-defence.

”I am very sorry for the poor civilians who evacuate when fighting takes place,” he told a news conference. — Reuters