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Saturday, 29 December, 2001, 23:01 GMT
Nine die in Mogadishu clash
Somali rebels with guns
Almost every vehicle in Mogadishu is armed
By the BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu

At least nine people have been killed and more than 15 wounded in an armed confrontation between police and local militiamen in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Both sides used rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-aircraft machine guns and assault rifles in the firefight at the city's animal market.

Somali leaders with Kenyan President Danial Arap Moi at peace talks in Nairobi
Somali leaders have just returned from peace talks
Four of the dead and seven of the wounded were policemen. Three civilians were killed in the crossfire and eyewitnesses said two of the militiamen also died.

The reason for the fighting is not known. The militiamen are thought to be linked to a local businessman.

The commander of Mogadishu's police force, Colonel Abdi Hassan Awaleh Qeybdid, said the policemen were attacked by what he described as outlawed militiamen intent on creating lawlessness.

'Organised crime'

Eyewitnesses said the fighting broke out when policemen at a checkpoint near the market stopped a pick-up truck full of armed militiamen.

The gunmen killed one of the policemen on the spot before trying to escape.

The second policeman was fatally shot in the exchange of gunfire which ensued before the militiamen sped away.

Both the police and the militia sought reinforcements. Colonel Qeybdid himself was called in.

He said the militias ambushed him before he even reached the checkpoint where the incident took place.

"It must have been an organised crime," he said.

Tense city

Colonel Qeybdid said his policemen had recently been reorganising the animal market.

The police have been moving street vendors away from the road which leads to the market and allocating them pieces of land from which to run their businesses.

Colonel Qeybdid said he had reported the incident to the mayor of the city and the interior minister.

The new Prime Minister, Mr Hassan Abshir Farah, who only late on Friday afternoon returned from a meeting in Nairobi where he had signed a peace deal, has also been notified of the incident.

In recent days, as well as fighting between rival warlords in the Medina district of the city, outlawed militias have set about looting public transport buses and private cars.

The security situation in the Somali capital has been deteriorating over the past three months, since the transitional government failed to pay salaries to the police, demobilised militias and re-enlisted former military personnel.

Guns have become very prevalent in the city, with almost every vehicle armed.

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Africa
Calm returns to Mogadishu
13 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali PM pledges reconciliation
16 Jul 01 | Africa
Somali troops battle militiamen
28 Mar 01 | Africa
Somali warlords condemn ambush
05 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
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