Somalia unrest leaves 14 dead

MOGADISHU: Fierce overnight fighting between Islamic insurgents and pro-government forces in Somalia's capital killed at least 14 people including women and children, health officials said Tuesday.

Ambulance staff collected the bodies in Mogadishu Tuesday, said service chief Rufai Mohamed, and officials of two Mogadishu hospitals say they admitted at least 45 wounded people.

The fighting marks a continuation of weekend violence when the two sides pounded the capital with mortars and gunfire, killing at least 35 people.

The independent Elman Human Rights Organization said that by Monday afternoon 17,200 people had fled their homes for safer places inside and outside Mogadishu.

The intensity of the fighting had reduced by early Tuesday but sporadic gunfire could be heard in parts of the city.

Abdifitah Hassan, a resident at Sinai village in northern Mogadishu, told The Associated Press that he saw insurgents firing mortar rounds in the direction of the presidential palace and pro-government fighters returned fire.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and his staff were safe, said defense department official Col. Yasin Haile. Insurgents have previously targeted the presidential palace without causing much damage.

Islamic insurgents, including the al-Shabab group which is seeking to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed government and establish an Islamic state, have been trying to topple the weak government since late 2006.

Al-Shabab controls much of southern Somalia. Ahmed's government directly controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu and one border town. But the president has allies among the militias that control much of central Somalia and pockets of the south.

Ahmed, elected by parliament in January, used to be one of the leaders of the Islamic insurgency. Since his election he has been trying to broker peace with warring groups and gain legitimacy.

Ahmed told journalists Monday that the people behind the weekend fighting are against peace, but he is willing to talk with his opponents.

The U.S. worries that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground, particularly since Osama bin Laden declared his support for al-Shabab.

The U.S. also accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who allegedly blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The warlords then turned on each other, plunging the nation into anarchy and chaos.

Somalia's transitional government was formed in 2004, but has failed to assert any control over the country. The lawlessness also has allowed piracy to explode off Somalia's coast.