Forces loyal to Somalia's powerful Islamists on Wednesday clashed with government troops backed by Ethiopian forces, hours after a deadline expired for Addis Ababa to withdraw its troops or face major attacks.
The Islamists, who control swathes of southern and central Somalia and are accused of links to Al-Qaeda, have declared a holy war to drive Ethiopian troops from the lawless Horn of Africa country.
"Islamic forces have clashed with the government troops in the Idale region," said Mohamed Abdullahi, resident of the region said.
"There have been casualties, but I cannot say how many," he added.
Officials in the defence ministry confirmed the clashes in the southern region, but could not provide a casualty figure.
"There have been clashes in Idale," said the official in the defence ministry.
The clashes occurred at the Idale trading post, about 60 kilometres south of the seat of government in Baidoa, which is located 250 kilometres northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
The fighting erupted about two hours after the expiration of a deadline set by the powerful Islamic movement for Ethiopian troops to pull out or face major attacks.
Ethiopia has sent several hundred military trainers and advisers to help the Somali government, but denies widespread reports it has deployed thousands of combat troops to Somalia to forestall a feared Islamist advance towards Baidoa, the only city held by the transitional administration.