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Battle rages in Mogadishu, at least 57 dead

Written by: Staff

MOGADISHU, May 9 (Reuters) The latest Mogadishu flare-up between Islamic militia and a self-styled anti-terrorism alliance of warlords in Somalia's capital has killed at last 57 people, sources from both sides said today.

By late today, at least 33 people were wounded to bring the number to 103.

Fighting, which many believe is being fuelled by US support for the warlords, continued for a third day today in the run-down Siisii area of the lawless coastal city.

''I am sure 20 people died today,'' Abdifatah Abdikadir, a resident living near the Kilometer 4 area of Mogadishu.

That is where two people were killed and several others were wounded when Islamic courts militia attacked a passing convoy of coalition militia.

''Nearly 60 have died so far since the battle began on Sunday,'' Abdikadir told Reuters by phone.

The Horn of Africa nation of about 10 million people has been a battleground for feuding militia groups since the toppling of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

But this year's fighting in Mogadishu, a city awash with AK-47s and heavy military hardware, has been the worst for years. Two previous battles in February and March killed some 90 people.

''Most parts of the capital are burning,'' a worried Abubakar Hassan said.

An Islamic militia leader, Siyad Mohamed, confirmed fighting had started again today morning. ''We have lost at least four today on our side, and three yesterday,'' he said by phone.

The violence is a setback to plans by an interim Somali government -- the 14th attempt to restore central rule in 15 years -- to move from its provincial base Baidoa to the capital.

It is also impeding relief efforts in a nation where nearly 2 million people rely on emergency food aid. Around Mogadishu, thousands of internal refugees live in squalor in the war-scarred shells of former government buildings.

U.S MONEY? Alliance spokesman Hussein Gutale Rage said their alliance lost five men today.

''Many people have died so far... But the majority are civilians because Siisii is densely populated,'' Gutale told Reuters by phone. ''The real battle starts now when the big guns join in.'' Fighters on the Islamic militia side are linked to Mogadishu's powerful sharia courts and funded by local businessmen. Coalition leaders and diplomats say they include some al Qaeda-trained fighters.

Washington has long viewed mainly Muslim Somalia as a potential haven for Islamic militants, and it is thought by many both inside and outside the nation to be sending money to the Mogadishu warlords as part of its counter-terrorism strategy.

Even Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf said last week Washington was backing the warlords, whose new coalition is called ''Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.'' U.S. officials have mainly avoided comment.

Western and African diplomats believe the United States is involved, but had different views on which side would emerge victorious in the battle to control Mogadishu.

''It's the Americans who are behind all this, it's known everywhere even if they continue denying,'' said an African diplomat involved with peace efforts in Somalia. ''I see the coalition losing this battle because they lack public support.'' Reuters OM PC2021

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