Home | News    Saturday 26 March 2005

Fighting in southwestern Somalia puts new government at risk

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By OSMAN HASSAN, Associated Press Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Mar 26, 2005 (AP) — Heavy fighting between militias led by two lawmakers in Somalia’s new parliament broke out in a major southwestern trading center Saturday, throwing reconciliation efforts and the establishment of a new government into doubt.

The battle had left at least five dead and dozens wounded by Saturday afternoon and was still raging as the sun set, witnesses said.

The fighting in Baidoa was between a clan faction allied to neighboring Ethiopia, commanded by Hassan Mohamed Nur Shargudud, and a group led by Mohamed Ibrahim Habsadeh. The two men have disagreed about where the new government, currently in exile in Kenya, should be established and the role of Ethiopian troops as peacekeepers to protect the interim government.

Habsadeh was leading his troops in Baidoa when the fighting broke out at about 11 a.m. (0800 GMT) and continued throughout the day. Shargudud was in Nairobi, Kenya, where the new parliament has been based since its formation last year.

"I have been attacked by the supporters of Mr. Shargudud," Habsadeh said, when reached by telephone. "They told me that they want to dislodge me from the town forcefully."

He said two of his men had been killed in the initial fighting and four were wounded.

Ethiopian-backed Somali warlords — now lawmakers — and the Ethiopian-backed President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed have suggested setting up the new government in Baidoa and in Jowhar, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Mogadishu because the capital is too dangerous. Yusuf has also called for Ethiopian and other regional peacekeepers to protect the new government.

Habsadeh and other Somali leaders who consider Ethiopia an enemy have rejected both proposals, causing a split among the warlords who took part in the peace process to form the new government. Mediators have said that, while a government was formed, reconciliation efforts have stalled, placing the peace process danger.

Islamic fundamentalists, who make up a small percentage of Somali society, have also opposed the new government.

Shargudud’s militia attempted to organize a public demonstration of support for Yusuf and his proposals in Baidoa when Habsadeh’s men prevented it. The confrontation deteriorated into heavy fighting with rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and small arms on Saturday.

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