Around 50 dead in Somalia clashes: witnesses

Somali and AU forces launch attack against rebels


Some 50 people, many of them fighters, were killed Wednesday in clashes across Somalia, witnesses and officials said.

The deaths came as Somali government forces backed by African Union troops launched a fresh offensive against al-Qaeda-inspired rebels.

"We have counted at least 20 civilians killed," Ali Muse, head of the Mogadishu ambulance service said.

Residents spoke of one dead insurgent in the capital and said Shabab fighters had also displayed five bodies they said were dead soldiers from the African Union force, bringing the toll for the capital to 26.

"Shabab fighters displayed the dead bodies of five AU troops another one who was captured alive after he was injured and described them all as belonging to the Burundian contingent operating in Mogadishu," Ahmed Abdishakur, a witness said.

Several other witnesses who went to see the dead bodies being displayed at northern Mogadishu’s Maslah camp confirmed that account and Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage held a press conference as the bodies were displayed.

"I assure you that they have lost in today's battle," Rage told reporters.

"We send a message to the Burundian people, we say to you, you have ignored our calls but today these dead bodies are your sons and if you don’t withdraw the rest soon, we will be taking the same path and many of them will be killed," Rage added.

Clashes also erupted in Beledweyn, a town close to the Ethiopian border, in Bulahawo, close to the Kenyan border and in villages in central Somalia’s Galgadud region as Shabab fighters clashed with pro-government Sufi militants assisting Somali government soldiers.

Elders in Beledweyn said at least 11 combatants were killed.

"We are getting information that a total of 11 combatants from the two sides died in the fighting, which lasted all afternoon. Residents saw the dead bodies and many them have fled to avoid the clashes," Abdulahi Fidow told AFP.

Thirteen other people, most of them combatants, were also killed in the town of Bulohawo, residents said.

"We have attacked the positions of the enemy inside Bulohawo and although they are still controlling the town, we have killed many of their fighters and we lost four soldiers," Abdiasis Moalim Ali, a pro-government Sufi commander, told AFP by phone.

Sheik Idris Abu-Fatma, a Shabab commander in the city, claimed victory for his side.