MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Gunmen attacked Ethiopian troops in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Sunday, residents said, as Somali and U.S. officials vowed to work together to stabilize the chaotic state.
In the second day of violence in Mogadishu directed at Ethiopian troops, Somali gunmen opened fire on the forces backing the interim government.
“Fierce fighting went on for 15 minutes. I could hear sounds of heavy machine guns rattling,” said a resident, who lives nearby, adding that fighting was so fierce it lit up the area.
A witness said a young girl was killed while another resident said he was wounded in the shoot out at the site where just days ago a hand grenade was thrown at Ethiopian soldiers.
“The insurgents came with two vehicles and opened fire at government forces holding defenses outside a compound where the Ethiopian soldiers are staying,” a government source said.
“The Ethiopians were inside. Fighting ensued. Heavy fire was exchanged, one anti-tank rocket was launched by the insurgents.”
A taxi driver in the area said three trucks carrying Ethiopian soldiers were attacked first: “It was a very heavy exchange. I was forced to lie down to avoid being hit,” he said.
He added that the gunmen fled, while another witness said the soldiers later drove away toward the seaport.
The violence came after Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi and Washington’s top diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, met in Nairobi.
“We are going to work together for the stabilization of Somalia,” Gedi said after meeting the envoy.
Frazer has been shuttling around the region as Western and African diplomats discuss an African peacekeeping force for Somalia after two weeks of war that saw Ethiopian and government troops force out Islamists who had controlled much of the south.
Frazer has said Washington was donating $16 million to help fund the proposed force and she has called for dialogue.
“We were already reaching out to moderate members of the Islamic Courts,” she told reporters.
“We have made it clear that we see a role in the future of Somalia for all who renounce violence and extremism.”
She said she had been due to travel to Mogadishu on Sunday but the trip was canceled.
Yemen’s foreign minister was quoted on Saturday as saying some Islamist leaders had arrived in Yemen.
Other Islamists have vowed to fight on. Residents say they have fled into the remote south where Ethiopian and government forces are hunting them near the sealed Kenyan border.
In scenes reminiscent of the lawlessness associated with Mogadishu, which largely stopped during six months of strict Islamist rule, crowds hurled stones and burned tires on Saturday to demonstrate against the forces that ousted the Islamists.
Witnesses said three people were killed when Ethiopian troops and protesters exchanged shots. A government source said only one person was killed in gunfire between protesters and police. On Sunday, hundreds of Somali government soldiers patrolled the streets where the protests had taken place.
In the southcentral town of Baladwayne, hundreds took to the streets demanding Ethiopian troops free a military commander detained for refusing to hand over an ousted Islamist because of a government amnesty offer to the defeated movement.
The government wants to install itself in the capital, one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
Hours after the Islamists fled, militiamen loyal to warlords reappeared in the city where they used to terrorize civilians.
“We don’t want the return of warlordism in Somalia. We don’t support it, we don’t want it, the people don’t want it,” Frazer said, calling for them to disarm. “They should have their militias go away or join the institutions of the government.”
President Abdullahi Yusuf asked Addis Ababa to train Somali forces, Ethiopian state television said on Saturday, after the Somali leader met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Meles has said his troops will leave Somalia within weeks.
Any prolonged Ethiopian deployment would likely anger many Somalis who resent the presence of soldiers from their militarily superior neighbor, which has invaded Somalia several times in what Addis Ababa calls defensive missions.