Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops engaged in fierce fighting with insurgents in the capital Mogadishu Saturday, leading to at least 17 deaths, sources said.
Two police officers manning a checkpoint at Howlwadaag intersection near Bakara market were shot and killed in a sneak insurgent attack this morning. The killers armed with pistols escaped before police reinforcements rushed to the scene.
Witnesses saw police units take away the dead bodies towards the district headquarters.
Later in the day, heavy fighting erupted in parts of Hodan district and quickly spread into Bakara market, where insurgents backed into as a joint Somali-Ethiopian force pushed forward with armored vehicles including tanks.
Artillery and tank shells hit Bakara business fronts and homes in the surrounding area, killing and wounding civilians shopping at the market or inside their homes, witnesses reported.
A Garowe Online correspondent saw two bodies, including a young child dressed in school uniform, lying on the ground lifelessly near Howlwadaag intersection that leads into Bakara.
It is not clear how many soldiers and insurgents died in today’s battle, but witnesses reported seeing dead bodies belonging to both groups of fighters.
Most civilians fled the area for personal safety, including our own correspondent.
Medical sources at Mogadishu’s Medina Hospital said 20 wounded people were admitted before 6pm local time, when the fighting slowed down to a halt as nighttime approached.
Today’s battle was one of the worst fighting Mogadishu has seen in months, according to our correspondent and residents.
Somali government officials have repeatedly accused Bakara market of being the headquarters of the insurgency, which includes Islamist guerrillas and clan fighters opposed to the presence of Ethiopian army troops.
Mogadishu has seen relentless violence since January 2007 when the Ethiopian army helped government troops overthrow the Islamic Courts movement that governed the capital since June 2006.
The Islamists, who vowed to wage a guerrilla war to uproot the Ethiopians and their Somali government allies, claim responsibility for most insurgent attacks, including daily shootouts, roadside bombings and the targeted assassination of government officials.
Human rights groups say 6,500 people were killed in Mogadishu last year and hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the insurgency, which has now entered its 15th consecutive month.