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Rebel leader pledges to escalate attacks during Ramadan


Latest update : 2009-08-24

At least six civilians were killed in Mogadishu as Somalia's insurgents rejected a government call for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Islamist rebels vowed to step up their attacks against President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's forces.

AFP - At least six civilians were killed in the Somali capital in an exchange of fire, witnesses said Sunday, as a hardline rebel leader vowed to step up attacks during Ramadan.

The clashes broke out on Saturday night in southern Mogadishu's Hodan and Holwadag neighbourhoods between rebels, who still control most of the city, and government forces backed by African peacekeepers.

Each side accused the other of starting the fighting.

On Sunday residents said calm had returned to Mogadishu but hardline Islamist rebel leader Hasan Dahir Aweys vowed to intensify the war against the Somali government and the African peacekeepers during Ramadan.

"We will intensify our holy war against the apostate government and their foreign allies even during the holy month of Ramadan," he told a press conference in Mogadishu.

He accused African peacekeepers of having recently deployed additional troops in Mogadishu.

"They deployed more troops to worsen the security situation in Somalia, but we will never stop fighting them until they leave our soil," Aweys told reporters.

He also said efforts were under way to unify his group Hizb Al-Islam and the Al-Qaeda-inspired rebel faction known as the Shebab.

"There are plans to unify the two groups for god's sake, there are efforts to make that happen," he said.

Somalia has been in chaos since 1991. Hizb al-Islam and the Shebab are the two main factions in the insurgency bent on toppling President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and ousting the African Union forces from the country.

Earlier Sunday Hizb Al-Islam and government forces traded blame, each party accusing the other of having started Saturday night's fighting.

Hizb Al-Islam commander Sheik Muse Abdi Arale accused government forces of having shelled civilian populated areas, killing several innocent people.

Abdirasak Qeylow, a Somali government military commander, denied the claims, saying that the rebels attacked his men's positions.

"They attacked our forces in the evening and fired mortars and RPGs, but they lost several men in the battle and retreated," he told reporters.

Mogadishu residents said four of Saturday night's civilian dead were killed in the shelling of a market and the remaining two were among more than a dozen wounded elsewhere in the city and died from their injuries while being taken to hospital.

The past week has also seen a stepping up of the battles for control of central Somalia as pro-government forces launched raids aimed at ousting Shebab fighters from the region.

The government troops are backed by militias from the Sufi group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa and other clan-based armed groups.

Earlier last week, the pro-government fighters recaptured two strategic southwestern towns from the Shebab without any fighting, but the insurgents later wrested back control.


Date created : 2009-08-23