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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 January 2007, 18:32 GMT
New attacks in southern Somalia
An armed Somali soldier in Mogadishu (5 January 2007)
UN officials fear the air strikes could lead to an escalation of hostilities
Air strikes targeting Islamist fighters have resumed in southern Somalia, but there is no United States confirmation.

Residents in Afmadow town described two attacks nearby, whilst another occurred on the coast in Ras Kamboni.

This follows air raids earlier this week by US forces who said they were targeting suspected al-Qaeda leaders. At least 20 civilians have died.

The United Nations Security Council is set to meet to consider moves to send African peacekeepers into Somalia.

The initiative was agreed before the Islamic Courts militia were ousted by Ethiopia-backed government forces.

Criticism

There has been considerable criticism of the US, which on Sunday carried out its first overt military action in Somalia since 1994.

US Air Force picture of an AC-130 gunship (file photo)
The south is a no man's land... it is forest. It's not easy to move in with military vehicles
Somali interim deputy PM
Hussein Aideed

UN officials fear the US actions may complicate peacekeeping efforts and new UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he regretted the reported loss of civilian lives.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq told the BBC that Mr Ban was "concerned about the new dimension that this kind of action could introduce to the conflict, and the possible escalation of hostilities that may result".

A spokesman for EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said the air strikes were "not helpful".

The US has long said al-Qaeda suspects linked to the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa took refuge in Somalia. It also accuses the Islamists of having links to al-Qaeda - charges they deny.

Last month, the UN Security Council authorised an African peacekeeping force to protect the transitional government against the Union of Islamic Courts.

They had taken control of much of central and southern Somalia over the past six months, before being routed from the capital, Mogadishu, and driven south by government and Ethiopian forces.

The UK Foreign Office is currently investigating reports that Britons are among those killed in the fighting after Somali officials said they had found a variety of international passports on the bodies of dead Islamist fighters.

In other developments:

  • Somali officials say leading al-Qaeda suspect, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, accused of masterminding the bomb attacks on US embassies in East Africa nine years ago, may be among those killed in the earlier raids

  • His wife and the wife of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, also wanted by the FBI for an attack in East Africa in 2002, have been arrested in Kenya after fleeing the coastal Somali town of Ras Kamboni, Kenyan intelligence sources say

  • The interim government has called for all clan militia to assemble at designated points across the country to disarm, retrain and join the national army

  • There has been a fresh attack on an Ethiopian vehicle in the capital, Mogadishu, following Tuesday's rocket attacks

  • Ethiopia's government says it has almost completed its military operation in Somalia and scored "a shining victory"

  • Health officials say fighting is preventing them confirming a possible spread of the deadly Rift Valley Fever from Kenya to the Lower Juba region

'Hiding out'

Correspondents say the situation on the ground in southern Somalia remains very unclear, with communications in the area poor.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I cannot believe the US has launched air strikes against Somalia
Nimco Hussein

The Islamist fighters are hiding in densely wooded areas close to the Kenyan border in the southern tip of Somalia.

Somalia's interim deputy prime minister, Hussein Aideed, said the US action was necessary precisely because of their location.

"This is [the] south of the country, and it is a no man's land... it is forest. It's not easy to move in with military vehicles," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

The BBC's Bashkas Jugsodaay who is between the Kenyan border and Doble town says dozens of people, mainly pastoralists, and their cattle were killed in air strikes on Tuesday evening near watering holes.

Eyewitnesses in two settlements between Doble and Afmadow say the attacks lasted for between 30 to 45 minutes.

Aid workers report that more 1,000 people have been wounded since fighting erupted in December. However, there is no information of causalities in the current fighting in the remote south.

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