MOGADISHU, Somalia Mar 28 (Garowe Online) -
At least seven people were killed in Somalia's national capital Mogadishu Saturday after fighting erupted between Islamist hardliners and government forces, Radio Garowe reports.
The battle started in northern Mogadishu's Yaaqshiid district, with Somali Security Minister Col. Omar Hashi telling reporters that the Islamist rebel group Hizbul Islam [Party of Islam] initiated the fighting.
"Thieves loyal to Hizbul Islam stole a vehicle belonging to a government military officer and then government security forces chased the thieves, which started the fighting," the Security Minister said.
The Yaaqshiid police station, where the battle was concentrated, eventually changed hands and fell under the control of Hizbul Islam as government troops withdrew.
Witnesses saw burned vehicles positioned near the center of the fighting.
"Most of the dead and wounded victims were civilians, except two fighters who died at the scene," witness Muse Omar told Puntland-based Radio Garowe.
Yaaqshiid residents have begun fleeing the area, fearing renewed clashes as government troops and Islamist rebels sent reinforcements to the area.
Contacts at Mogadishu's Keysaney and Medina hospitals reported that a total of 40 wounded persons were admitted for emergency treatment, with Keysaney Hospital director Ali Bile saying some of the victims are in critical condition.
Today's battle erupted in Mogadishu as Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, formerly chief of Somalia's Islamist movement, returned home after visiting six African nations to draw support for his new government.
Somalia's new UN-backed Government of National Unity is still making efforts to create a joint security force, after the Transitional Federal Government and the Islamist-dominated Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia merged to form the new government.
The fighting in Yaaqshiid was described by local sources as a battle among Islamic Courts factions, with government forces loyal to President Sheikh Sharif and Hizbul Islam rebels loyal to Eritrea-based Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Source: Garowe Online