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Hundreds flee fighting in Somali capital

world Updated: Feb 25, 2009 16:39 IST
Hundreds flee fighting in Somali capital

An artillery shell fell on a school in southern Mogadishu on Wednesday, killing two children, as civilians fled to safer areas of the Somali capital following deadly fighting the previous day, witnesses and officials said.

Mogadishu residents piled into minibuses with their belongings or used donkey carts to carry their possessions as they left southern Mogadishu for other parts of the capital on Wednesday. Mogadishu's police chief Abdi Hassan Awale said there was a brief clash on Wednesday when Islamic insurgents attacked, for the second day, a peacekeeping base in southern Mogadishu, and Somali government soldiers and African Union troops fought back. Mo'alim Mohamed Aden Yusuf, a teacher at an Islamic school near the base, said an artillery shell exploded inside the school, killing two pupils under 10 years old and injuring four others. "The shell landed on the school as the students were busy studying. Blood was everywhere. It was shocking," Yusuf told The Associated Press by phone.

Residents reported that fighting died down after a while. Sheik Muse Abdi Arale, the spokesman for the Islamic Party, a coalition of four Islamic groups, said his party was responsible for Tuesday's and Wednesday's attacks.

"We will not stop fighting," said Arale. "The so-called AU peacekeepers should leave our country and then Somalis will be able to negotiate their interests."

Barigye Bahoku, spokesman for the AU force, said they would not attack anyone but, "if we are attacked we have a right to self-defense."

At least 29 people were killed in on Tuesday's fighting, said Ali Sheikh Yasin Fadhaa, the head of the independent Elman Human Rights Organization. Fadhaa said the death toll is based on information gathered from hospitals, residents and cemeteries. He said his group estimates 17,000 people on Tuesday fled their homes in southern Mogadishu to seek refuge in other parts of the capital.

"We call on the warring groups to stop using civilians as human shields," Fadhaa told The Associated Press.

Tuesday's clashes were between Islamic insurgents and Somali and AU soldiers, during which both sides fired mortar rounds and used heavy machine gun fire. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber attacked an AU peacekeeping base, killing 11 Burundian soldiers. An extremist Islamic group called al-Shabab, which is not part of the Islamic Party, claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack. The US State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida, something the group has denied. AU peacekeepers have a restricted mandate to guard key government installations in Mogadishu. Until now, they have not been involved in fighting Islamic militants in the capital during battles that have killed thousands of civilians over the past two years. Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. They then turned on each other, plunging the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million to anarchy and chaos.