MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Militias allied to the Somali government recaptured a southern port from Islamists on Tuesday, taking the death toll from an upsurge of fighting in recent days to nearly 100, witnesses said.
The militias recaptured Guda town, which had been taken by the Islamists' militant al Shabaab wing on Monday, after overnight fighting that brought fatalities on both sides.
"The town is now under our control. On both sides, five died and eight were wounded," militiaman Abdisalan Hassan Bootan told Reuters.
In Mogadishu, eight more corpses were found where Ethiopian troops backing the Somali government clashed with Islamist insurgents over the weekend, taking the total death toll since then to 98, according to a rights group.
"In addition, six other wounded people were also found in those areas of Mogadishu, making the number of wounded people 125 since Saturday so far," Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of the Elman Human Rights group, told Reuters.
Branded terrorists by Washington, al Shabaab has led an Iraq-style insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian allies since early 2007.
The insurgency began when the Islamic Courts Union, of which Al Shabaab was a part, lost control of Mogadishu.
The recent violence has swelled Somalia's internal refugee population of about 1 million. Aid workers say Somalia is one of the world's worst, yet most neglected, humanitarian crises.
The United Nations is trying to broker peace talks between the warring Somali factions in neighbouring Djibouti on May 10. The Horn of Africa nation has been without central rule and in near-permanent conflict since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.
But the new violence has left talks looking unlikely.
A spokesman for the Islamic Courts, Sheikh Ibrahim Suley, said the real death toll from the weekend violence in Mogadishu was much higher, and talks with the government had been consequently postponed indefinitely.
"The Ethiopians killed around 200 people and kidnapped 160 others including 41 Koranic students...We will continue fighting the Ethiopians and those under the protection of their tanks. We call on them to repent," Suley told Reuters.
"It is never possible to hold talks with those who killed our people. We had dialogue with the U.N. over the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and now we decided to put that on hold."
The new fighting comes as the worst drought in more than a decade grips most of Somalia, the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said on Tuesday.
"If the drought persists in addition to the fighting, we will be confronted with the same situation in 1991-92 when drought and civil strife claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis," Elisabeth Byrs of OCHA said in Geneva.
Some 2.5 million Somalis need aid urgently as the April-June rainy season started poorly, according to OCHA.
The first serious signs of drought have begun in the country where normally resistant camels have begun dying, Byrs said.
By Aweys Yusuf and Abdi Sheikh
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
The worst drought-hit area is Galguduud in central Somalia, which is difficult to access for aid workers, she said. "If urgent action is not taken there will be a humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia," she said. (Additional reporting by Abdi Mohamed in Mogadishu, Sahra Abdi in Kismayu and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Guled Mohamed; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
Source: Reuters, April 22, 2008