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Clashes kill 46 in Somalia, new security boss named


Thursday, July 23, 2009

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MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Clashes in central Somalia and the capital have killed at least 46 people, officials and peace groups said on Thursday, while a newly-appointed security minister pledged to build strong national security forces.

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) said it was investigating a mystery illness that had killed three Burundian peacekeepers based in Somalia. Eighteen more were in a Kenyan hospital with the same symptoms, an AU official said.

Neither insurgents nor the interim government and its allies have been able to gain the upper hand in sporadic fighting in central Somalia and the sea-side capital Mogadishu.

A two-year insurgency against Somalia's western-backed government has killed some 18,000 people and displaced a million more in a nation that has been without central rule since 1991.

The government is hemmed into a few blocks of the capital.

In the central towns of Wabho and Mahas, clashes between al Shabaab militants and the moderate Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca have killed some 31 people since Wednesday, according to the local Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization.

"Eighteen people mainly militias died in (Thursday's) fighting near Wabho village. Thirteen died in clashes on Wednesday in Mahas. The total wounded ... is 63 in both areas," said the group's deputy Ali Yasin Gedi.

Al Shabaab -- seen by western security services as al Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa nation -- controls large swathes of south and central Somalia.

At least 15 people were killed and 53 wounded in heavy fighting in three districts of Mogadishu late on Wednesday, according to Ali Muse from the Life Line ambulance service.

There was a lull in fighting late on Thursday.

NEW SECURITY MINISTER

The government's cabinet said in a statement on Thursday that it had appointed Abdullahi Mohamed Ali as security minister replacing the former incumbent who was killed about a month ago in a suicide bombing by Islamist rebels.

"I shall give the first priority to building strong Somali forces and national security," he told Reuters by telephone.

Western nations fear that if al Shabaab, and the foreign fighters within its ranks, seize control of Somalia, they could destabilize neighboring countries and train militants to launch attacks elsewhere.

Some 4,300 AU soldiers from Burundi and Uganda in Mogadishu defend key sites and help government forces to defend against regular attacks from insurgents.

Gaffel Nkolokosa, spokesman for the AU envoy to Somalia, said 21 Burundi soldiers had fallen ill due to unknown causes. He would not say what the symptoms were.

"The African Union and the Burundian government have dispatched a team of medical experts to ascertain what has caused an illness in a Burundian contingent," he said.

"Twenty-one soldiers were evacuated earlier this week after exhibiting similar symptoms and three of those have since died."

Source: Reuters, July 23, 2009