Three Somali govt soldiers killed in fierce battle

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MOGADISHU, Sept 24 (Reuters) At least three Somali government soldiers were killed this weekend in some of the worst fighting in the capital since opposition figures vowed war on Ethiopian troops supporting the interim government.

The gunbattles late today took place in northern Mogadishu, a stronghold of Islamist insurgents fighting what they see as Ethiopia's occupation of their Horn of Africa nation.

Clan militia have also joined the ranks resisting efforts by the government to restore effective central rule to Somalia after warlords ousted a military dictator in 1991.

''Three government soldiers, including the unit leader, were killed in the fighting and three others were wounded,'' said a policeman, who did not want to be identified.

He also said a government technical -- Somalia's version of a tank -- was burned.

Allied Somali-Ethiopian troops who ousted a rival Islamist movement in the New Year were out in force at the scene of the battles early Monday, the police source said.

''We admitted four government soldiers last night. They were wounded in last night's gun battle,'' Dahir Dhere, a medical officer at Medina hospital, told Reuters.

Last month, Somali opposition leaders said their newly formed ''Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia'' would refuse talks with the government unless Ethiopia pulled its troops from Somalia.

The group also demanded the withdrawal of 1,600 Ugandan peacekeepers, the vanguard of a planned 8,000-strong African Union (AU) mission to replace the Ethiopians.

Paddy Ankunda, the spokesman for the Ugandan AU contingent, told Reuters on Monday its modest successes should be an embarrassment to countries that have failed to send forces.

In a separate incident, unknown gunmen killed a local prominent businessman in southern Mogadishu on Sunday, witnesses said.

''The gunmen entered his shop and forced him outside where they shot him dead,'' one witness said.

Last week, a UN independent expert on human rights said Mogadishu residents were more afraid than ever before of being killed and arrested in the city which for 16 years has been a byword for chaos and violence.

REUTERS JK RN1514

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