Islamist militiamen loyal to the government battled hardline al Shabaab fighters in Somalia on Wednesday as the failed Horn of Africa state spiralled further into chaos.
The capital Mogadishu has been rocked by the heaviest fighting for months as rebels try to topple President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government. The fighting has killed at least 113 civilians since last week, and thousands have fled the city, Reuters adds.
There have also been fierce clashes between Shabaab and a more moderate Islamist militia, Ahlu Sunna, in the country’s central and southern regions. At least five people died on Tuesday in Mahas town, witnesses said.
“Al Shabaab fighters ran into a mosque for refuge, but residents kept firing at them with rocket-propelled grenades,” local man Aden Hussein said by telephone.
Local elders later intervened, he added, and persuaded the Shabaab gunmen to lay down their arms.
“We are now holding 126 of them captive,” Hussein said.
One of the elders told Reuters they had repeatedly told the insurgents to leave their town, which lies southwest of El Bur, a major Shabaab stronghold since 2006.
“They turned a deaf ear … but we are ready to fight if we are attacked,” said the elder, Mohamed Nur.
Thousands of residents have fled parts of northern Mogadishu, the scene of some of the worst fighting in recent days. On Wednesday, heavy clashes shook the same rain-swept streets again. Few details were immediately available.
Regional countries and outside powers have long battled for influence in Somalia, which has Africa’s longest coast overlooking strategic shipping lanes linking Europe to Asia.
The nation has been torn by conflict since 1991 when warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
More than 16,000 civilians have been killed by fighting since the start of 2007, more than 1 million are internal refugees, and some 3.2 million survive on food aid.