81 dead in street fighting in Somalia

somali-fighter.bmpThe Associated Press – Sunday, April 20, 2008 –MOGADISHU, Somalia: Sporadic street fighting between Ethiopian troops and Islamic fighters trying to bring down Somalia’s shaky government has killed 81 people in the past two days, the head of a local human rights group said Sunday.

“The casualties … were caused by Ethiopians using heavy artillery and tank shells in residential areas of the war-torn capital. We condemn this latest fighting,” said Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of Elman Human Rights. Besides the 81 dead, 119 people had been wounded, he said.

Elman tracks fatalities through hospitals and morgues.

Sunday’s clashes broke out in rubble-strewn streets still littered with the uncollected bodies of the dead from the previous day’s violence. Witness Aden Shire said the Ethiopians seemed to be searching for the bodies of fellow soldiers killed the previous day.

Omar Abdulahi, said that among the dead he counted were two old men shot by Ethiopian soldiers inside their homes. Nasteho Moalim said her 7-year-old daughter and three neighbors were killed by tank shells fired by Ethiopian forces that hit their homes. Her husband was wounded. It was not clear if these were among the dead reported by other residents of the area.

On the government’s side, one Somali soldier and two Ethiopians were killed, said Asha Shegow Abikar, who saw their bodies outside his house.

Prime minister Nur Hassan Husein addressed the growing toll of civilian casualties during the latest outbreak of fighting.

“The government is sorry about the fighting and loss of innocent civilian lives,” he told a news conference Sunday. “Our aim is to restore law and order through reconciliation and peaceful means, but that does not mean our troops and those of our ally Ethiopia will not defend themselves as they come under constant attack.”

Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional government’s soldiers come under daily attack from the Islamic fighters they chased from power in the capital in December 2006.

The Islamists receive support from Ethiopia’s archenemy, Eritrea.

Impoverished Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator then turned on one another.

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Associated Press Writer Salad Duhul contributed to this report.

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