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03 Jun 2009 12:29
Heavy fighting broke out in the Somali capital on Wednesday as government forces intensified their offensive to drive out insurgents and widen control of key positions, officials and witnesses said.
Fresh clashes erupted in northern Mogadishu’s Jamhuriya neighbourhood after government forces moved to recapture positions previously held by the rebels.
“We are stretching the insurgents thin. Our forces took control of new locations in northern Mogadishu this morning,” said army officer Said Mohamed.
Somalia’s defence minister claimed late on Tuesday that his forces were regaining control on Mogadishu and repelling a month-old offensive by insurgents bent on toppling the transitional administration.
Early this week troops from the shaky transitional government recaptured two strategic police stations from the hardline Islamists within 24 hours.
Speaking in Burundi, Defence Minister Mohammed Abdi Gandi claimed that 14 out of 16 neighbourhoods in the seaside Somali capital were now under government control.
“That means we are making progress,” he said.
“We presently have the situation well under control and we have enough soldiers to hold on and repel the extremist aggression on the country,” Gandi said at a press conference in Bujumbura.
Battles over so-called control of a district have generally boiled down to skirmishes around that area’s main police station, with neither side proving it has the ability to conquer and hold more than a handful of strongholds.
Witnesses said Wednesday’s fighting was intense and trapping indoors any residents who wanted to flee to safety.
“The fighting is intensifying minute after minute and we cannot even poke our heads out, we are trapped inside our houses,” Abdulahi Dhubow, a resident of the Jamhuriya neighbourhood, told Agence France-Presse.
“We can see insurgents reinforcing their positions near Gargurte Hotel and the government forces are using heavy artillery shells to push them out,” Abdiasis Muse, another witness, said.
Several witnesses said it appeared Somali forces had taken full control of southern Mogadishu’s Dharkinley district, the scene of Tuesday’s heavy clashes.
Backed by African peacekeepers securing the presidential palace, as well as the seaport and the airport, Somali government forces launched a counter-offensive almost two weeks ago and regained some ground.—Sapa-AFP
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