U.N. calls for peace in Somalia fighting | VailDaily.com

U.N. calls for peace in Somalia fighting

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Hundreds have been killed in clashes between Somalia’s Islamic militia and the country’s secular government, officials said Friday, while the United Nations issued a call for peace during a lull in fighting.Sporadic gunfire and shelling could be heard around Baidoa, the U.N.-backed government’s only stronghold, but residents and officials said the worst of the current fighting appeared to be over.Thousands of Somalis have fled their homes as troops loyal to the two-year-old interim administration fought Islamic fighters who had advanced on Baidoa, about 140 miles northwest of the capital of Mogadishu. Islamic militiamen control Mogadishu along with most of southern Somalia.Islamic forces have declared they want to bring the whole country under Quranic rule and vowed to continue attacks to drive out troops from neighboring Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation that is providing military support.”We will now start our real attack against the invaders and would not stop until we force the Ethiopians out of our country,” Sheik Ibrahim Shukri Abuu-Zeynab, a spokesman for the Islamic movement, told reporters in Mogadishu.Late Friday, Ethiopia accused the Islamic movement of “massive infiltration” across the border into Ethiopia.”The situation in Somalia has turned from bad to worse,” the statement said. “Ethiopia has been patient so far but their is a limit to this.”In Kismayo, a strategic seaport captured from the government by Islamic militia in September, several foreign Arab fighters were seen by residents unloading from ships.Government officials said more than 600 Islamic fighters had been killed during four days of clashes. Islamic militia said they had killed around 400 Ethiopians and government fighters. Neither claim could be independently confirmed.The U.N. issued a statement in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Friday calling for an “immediate end” to the conflict. It accused both sides of using increasing numbers of child soldiers. “This conflict will push the children of Somalia into further dire crisis,” the U.N. said.Samir Hosni, the Arab League’s special envoy to Somalia, told a London-based Arab newspaper that he expected peace talks to resume in January.It was unclear how long the guns would remain quiet, as earlier Friday four Ethiopian attack helicopters and about 20 tanks headed for battle, witnesses and a government official said.The increasingly violent clashes and deployment of attack helicopters could mean a major conflict in this volatile region. Ethiopia, which has one of the largest armies in the region, and its bitter rival, Eritrea, could use Somalia as the ground for a proxy war. While Ethiopia backs the internationally recognized government, Eritrea backs the Islamic movement.Bodies lay in the streets of villages where attacks had taken place Thursday night, and families began to abandon their homes, crops and livestock, fearing worsening fighting. Hundreds of people in areas held by the Islamic forces also were fleeing south to Mogadishu.”I think we have lost hundreds of our animals in the fighting, most of them were caught in the crossfire,” said Malable Aden, who reached Mogadishu by car. “We were supposed to reap our harvest of this season, but unfortunately we were forced to leave them behind for the pigs and birds to destroy them.”Somalia has not had an effective government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the country into chaos.—Associated Press writers Salad Duhul and Mohamed Sheik Nor contributed to this report.

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