MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – At least 14 people have been killed in clashes between rival Islamic militias battling for control of a strategic western Somali town, witnesses said on Monday.
A moderate Islamic group allied to the government, Ahlu Sunna Waljama, launched an attack Sunday against its rival in Belet Weyne, which borders Ethiopia and is on a major road leading to the capital, the witnesses said. The clashes between Ahlu Sunna Waljama and Hizbul Islam continued Monday.
Belet Weyne resident Omar Adam said he saw the bodies of eight people, mostly civilians, on the streets. Another resident, Ibrahim Qayle, separately said he has counted six bodies belonging to Islamic fighters.
Saida Ahmed, a nurse at Belet Weyne Hospital, said more than 20 wounded people, mostly civilians, have been admitted at the hospital because of the fighting. Many businesses in the town are shuttered because of the fighting and no public transport is available.
For months, rival Islamic groups and the government have battled for control of Belet Weyne, which is the capital of the central Somali region of Hiran. Islamic insurgents control much of southern Somalia and have been trying to expand the territory they control.
The fighting is part of the chaos that has engulfed Somalia since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The warlords then turned on each other plunging the Horn of Africa nation into anarchy.
For two years, Islamic insurgents have been trying to overthrew the fragile, U.N.-backed government.