Heavily armed Islamist rebels have attacked the presidential palace and key installations in the Somali government’s Baidoa headquarters, killing at least four soldiers, officials said on Tuesday.
Witnesses said mortar bombs fired by the insurgents late on Monday also hit the airport and a large refurbished warehouse that serves as the Parliament of the Western-backed interim administration.
”Several mortar shells landed on us, killing three troops,” Ibrahim Ali Isak, a guard at Baidoa’s high-walled presidential palace, said by telephone.
Seven of his colleagues were injured and taken to hospital, where medical sources said one of them died.
The attack was carried out by militants of the al-Shabaab, which the United States has listed as a terrorist organisation.
A spokesperson for the rebels, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, said their target was the presidential guards and Ethiopian forces supporting the interim government.
Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein told reporters in Addis Ababa on Monday that the international community must deploy United Nations peacekeepers in his country without delay, or risk worsening insecurity across the Horn of Africa.
He said the UN troops were needed to replace Ethiopian soldiers under the terms of a tentative peace deal reached with some of the opposition last month at UN-led talks in Djibouti.
The al-Shabaab is the armed wing of an Islamist group ousted by the government and Ethiopians at the start of last year. Along with other opposition hardliners, it has criticised the Djibouti deal, which has done little to stop bloodshed in Somalia.
The latest high profile victim was Osman Ali Ahmed, local country director of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who was killed by unidentified gunmen in Mogadishu on Sunday.
Robow said al-Shabaab fighters were not to blame.
”We strongly condemn the killing of important people in our community and declare that we are not behind it,” he said. ”We believe Ethiopian troops and the government are behind it.”
Government officials and the Ethiopian military could not immediately be reached for comment.
The assassination of the UN official has raised fears among aid workers, who say worsening insecurity has stopped them from reaching many victims in a humanitarian crisis that may be the worst in Africa.
Fighting has killed more than 8 600 civilians since early last year, local rights activists say, and a million people out of population of nine million have been forced from their homes.
Somalia has had no central rule and has been in a state of near-perpetual conflict since the 1991 toppling of a dictator. — Reuters