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Somali factions fight for key town, 19 killed
May 30, 2005, 20:30
 
Rival Somali factions fought today for control of a town where Abdullahi Yusuf, the Somalian president, plans to set up a temporary capital, killing 19 people and wounding at least 28, residents and hospital sources said.

Hundreds of militiamen armed with truck-mounted machineguns attacked the southern town of Baidoa at about 3:45am and fought for about six hours with gunmen loyal to Mohamed Ibrahim Habsade, an anti-Yusuf lawmaker who has held the settlement for several months.

Hospital sources said two children were among the wounded when a mortar hit the house they were sheltering in. A dispute over where to install Yusuf's divided government has deepened power struggles within his administration. Habsade sides with warlords based in Mogadishu who are demanding that Yusuf base his cabinet in the traditional capital, as stipulated in the interim constitution. The location of the government, which has been based in Kenya since it was formed at peace talks there last year, is a key security issue for Somalia's neighbours in the Horn of Africa, a region long buffeted by Somalia's political turmoil.

Habsade dismissed Somali media reports that the attackers had taken control of up to half the market town, a centre of livestock-trading with a population of several hundred thousand 125km northwest of Modgadishu. Somalia collapsed into chaos after the overthrow of military ruler Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991. Conflict and famine have killed hundreds of thousands of people since then.

President under pressure
Yusuf is under pressure from foreign governments and donors to return home from Kenya. Donors have urged him and his opponents to resolve their dispute about where to be based.

Habsade accused Adan Mohamed Nuur "Madobe", the justice minister, and Hassan Mohamed Nuur "Shatigudud", the agriculture minister, of orchestrating the assault to wrest control of the town for Yusuf, whose administration seeks to disarm all militias and restore effective government for the first time in 14 years.

Somalis say hundreds of fighters loyal to Madobe and Shatigudud have been massing near Baidoa for several weeks, and Shatigudud has told reporters that nothing can stop Yusuf's government from establishing itself in the town.

Madobe, believed to be in the Baidoa area, could not immediately be reached for comment on the fighting. Shatigudud, currently in Kenya, said he knew nothing of today's violence. - Reuters

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