At least 36 people have been killed and scores wounded in three days of fighting in towns across chaotic southern and central Somalia, a local human rights group said yesterday.
Government troops fought a rebel group in a central town, the two main insurgent forces battled each other in the south and police from the semi-autonomous northern Puntland region clashed with soldiers on their border.
In the breakaway northern enclave of Somaliland, a roadside bomb killed a senior army officer yesterday and wounded one of his bodyguards, according to a government official.
In the capital Mogadishu, police said even some of the president’s own bodyguards made off with an escort vehicle and took it to the main weapons market, which is run by insurgents.
“At least 36 people died and 175 others were injured in Mogadishu, Galkayo and in Bakool region in the last three days,” said Ali Yasin Gedi, vice-chairman of Elman human rights group.
Somalia has been mired in chaos for nearly two decades and there is little sign the latest attempt to establish central government is proving any more successful than the 14 previous efforts since a dictator was ousted in 1991.
Western nations worry that the longer anarchy reigns in Somalia, the more entrenched hardline rebels accused of links to al Qaeda will become. They fear Somalia could then be used as a base to wreak havoc in the region and beyond.
The chaos on land has also allowed pirate gangs to operate with impunity, hijacking merchant ships, fishing vessels and yachts to demand hefty ransoms for their return.
Government officials and residents said eight people were killed and 16 wounded when government troops drove hardline Islamist insurgents Hizbul Islam out of the central town of Baladweyne.
Resident Fatuma Aden said the insurgents ran away after heavy exchanges of mortar shells and gunfire and that government forces were now at the airport.
In another incident last week, residents said fighting between Hizbul Islam and al Shabaab a rebel group that Washington says is linked to al Qaeda killed at least three people and wounded seven in the southern Bakool region.
“Fighting has stopped and al Shabaab controls the town but still there is tension,” local elder Malaq Muse told Reuters.
The country’s two main insurgent groups had controlled much of southern and central Somalia in an uneasy alliance. But that was shattered by days of fighting between the rebels for control of the lucrative southern port Kismayu.
Al Shabaab, which wants to impose its own harsh version of sharia law throughout Somalia, has been cracking down on activities it deems to be against Islam such as sport and music.
In the southern town of Marka last week, al Shabaab warned men they would be punished for not wearing beards.
“Al Shabaab publicly ordered the barbers not to shave or trim people’s beards,” resident Sabriye said by phone from Marka.
“They also ordered men not to shave beards or else face punishment.”