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At least 21 civilians killed in Mogadishu battle: medics

world Updated: Jun 04, 2010 11:57 IST

At least 21 Somali civilians were killed on Thursday and 59 wounded in fierce Mogadishu clashes pitting government forces backed by African Union troops against Islamist insurgents, medics said.

The fighting broke out when newly-trained government forces backed by the soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) apparently launched a major offensive to recapture key Mogadishu neighbourhoods.

The internationally-backed government had lost ground last month when insurgents, mainly from the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab movement, punched through a strategic frontline and closed in on the presidential compound.

"The Somali government forces advanced on the terrorists' strongholds this morning," Colonel Ahmed Ibrahim, a government security official, told AFP.

"They took control of several neighbourhoods which had been held by the rebels and the fighting is still going on. There are several bodies strewn across the streets," he added.

Medical sources counted at least 21 civilian deaths after the first few hours of fighting but expected the toll to rise, with no immediate information on combatant casualties and several areas impossible to access independently.