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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Rival militias clash in Somalia
Somali refugees have fled to Kenya to escape fighting
Recent fighting has forced many to flee

Heavy fighting has flared up between rival militiamen in the fertile Middle Shabelle region of southern Somalia.

Supporters of Dahir Dayah, the interior minister of the Transitional National Government, clashed with forces loyal to warlord Mohamed Dhere, who controls the regional capital of Jowhar, some 90 kilometres north of Mogadishu.

According to eyewitnesses contacted on VHF radios in the Mahadday district, close to the fighting, the two sides started exchanging heavy gunfire outside the village of El-Baraf, about 150km north of Mogadishu, just after morning prayers.

The eyewitnesses confirmed seeing more than 13 battle wagons and hundreds of heavily armed militiamen from both sides.

At about noon on Monday, the fighting seemed to have spread close to the Mahadday district in the villages of Ali-Foldhere and Magurti.

It is difficult to obtain exact figures about the casualties as the fighting is still raging.

19 killed

However, independent sources have confirmed that at least 19 people were killed and more than 30 others wounded from both sides.

Among the wounded are eight militiamen from Mr Dhere's side who were rushed to Jowhar for treatment.

Reached by phone, Mr Dhere accused the government forces of destabilizing the Middle Shabelle region.

He added that he has captured 17 assault rifles from his opponents. He gave no indications of casualties.

His rival, the interior minister, Mr Dayah, characterized the fighting as an attack against pro-government villages in the Middle Shabelle region by the warlord.

Mr Dayah said his forces have destroyed one battle wagon and captured another one from Mr Dhere's fighters.

Clan battle

Independent sources have confirmed that at least one battle wagon was destroyed during the fighting and its crew brought to hospital in Jowhar.

The fighting now seems to be degenerating into clan war between the Agon-Yar and Warsangeli subclans.

The battle follows clashes last month in North Mogadishu, where the interior minister's residence was attacked by Mr Dhere's militiamen.

Since then, both sides have been preparing themselves for war, despite some peace efforts.


Politics

Terrorist haven?

RESOURCES
See also:

29 May 02 | Africa
25 May 02 | Africa
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24 Jan 02 | Africa
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