Rival Islamist Militias Clash in Bloody Struggle for Somalia

Clashes between two rival Islamist militias in a central Somali town have killed at least 10 people, witnesses said Saturday, as speculation continued over whether the president the ineffectual U.N.-backed government would resign.

Resident Ali Haji Dalal said she had counted 10 people killed in Saturday's fighting in the town of Guriel. Eight of the dead were fighters. Salad Nur, a nurse at a hospital in the town, said a mortar landed in the emergency department, wounding six people.

Resident Abdi Aden Yare said that in the fighting a local militia seized back control of Guriel from the extremist Islamist group al-Shabab.


Al-Shabab, which translates as "the youth", is the most militant of a range of Islamist militias who have fought the government in the past two years. The Islamists now control most of central and southern Somalia but they are not united. One faction has signed a peace deal with the tottering U.N.-backed government but other factions, including al-Shabab, have continued to fight.

Al-Shabab have made the greatest territorial gains in the past few months and Ethiopian troops supporting the government are expected to pull out within days after a two year deployment.

The local group in Guriel, Ahlu-sunah Wal-jamea, also describes itself as an Islamic militia and promotes Muslim practices but has no ties to the government or the wider Islamic insurgency. The militia, made up mostly of local residents, lost control of the town to al-Shabab a few weeks ago.

The United States worries Somalia could become a haven for terrorist groups and says some leaders of al-Shabab have links to Al Qaeda.

The continued violence underscores the inability of the transitional government to bring even basic security to the country after two years in power. Instead, officials have spent much of their time fighting each other.

Aides to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf had said he would resign Saturday. The 74-year-old former warlord had tried to fire the reformist prime minister but backed down this week in the face of international condemnation and lack of support from legislators.

But Yusuf did not address a special session of parliament on Saturday as planned and in recent days other aides have issued denials he will step down. Parliamentary speaker Sheik Aden Mohamed Nur said the session would be held on Monday instead.

Any resignation may not have an immediate impact on the violence, since the government only controls a few blocks of the capital and the parliamentary seat of Baidoa.

Some analysts hope it will strengthen the hand of the prime minister, a former humanitarian who has welcomed talks with the opposition and tried to tackle human rights abuses committed by government forces.

But other analysts fear Yusuf could retreat to his northern stronghold of Puntland and rally members of his clan — one of Somalia's largest — to attack signatories of the tattered peace deal, including the faltering administration.

The infighting has prevented the government from addressing the strengthening Islamic insurgency or the plight of the Somali people. Around half of population of 7 million is currently dependent on food aid.

The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991.