Fighting between police and soldiers at the Mogadishu police academy killed at least eight people on Wednesday, and thousands of civilians fled the Somali capital fearing a government offensive against rebels.
Hardline Islamist insurgents also fired mortar shells at the presidential palace, prompting African Union (AU) guards to respond with a deafening barrage of artillery.
The failed Horn of Africa state has had no effective central government for 19 years and the U.N.-backed administration of President Sheikh Ahmed Sharif controls just parts of the city.
One policeman who gave his name as Ali said the fighting at the academy began after an argument between the forces there.
“At least three soldiers and four policemen were killed after they exchanged fire,” he told News Agency. Witnesses said at least one civilian had also been killed in the crossfire.
Western security agencies say Somalia has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who use it to plot attacks across the region and beyond. Fighting there has killed at least 21,000 people since the start of 2007.
Witnesses said thousands of residents were leaving the capital, fearing the start of a government offensive that has been threatened for weeks.
Farhiya Ismael, a mother-of-six, fled north Mogadishu’s Livestock Market district for nearby Elasha two days ago.
She said many fighters from the al Shabaab rebel group, which professes its loyalty to al Qaeda, had entered the capital from one of their bases in the southern port of Kismayu.
“Now it is time to flee this area again,” she told News Agency. “Last night, AMISOM (AU peacekeepers) shelled the al Shabaab members who had just passed us here and we could not sleep because of panic from the shells.”
Thousands of Somalis have been trained in Kenya and are ready to join the expected government offensive.
For weeks, Ahmed’s administration has been promising to launch an offensive against al Shabaab and another rebel group, Hizbul Islam, which both want to impose a harsh version of sharia law. The other part of the Somali government’s plan to drive back the insurgents includes beefing up AMISOM.
SOURCED FROM REUTERS