Over 20 killed in fresh fighting in Baidoa

Fresh fighting erupted in the town of Baidoa on Thursday in which at least 20 people were killed, local sources told IRIN.

The fighting between two factions of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), which controls much of the Bay and Bakol regions of southwestern Somalia, started at 09:00 a.m. local time (06:00 GMT) "and is still continuing", the sources said.

It follows two days of relative calm after clashes on Monday in which seven people died. The fighting is pitting forces loyal to the chairman of the RRA, Hasan Muhammad Nur Shatigadud, against those loyal to his two deputies, Shaykh Adan Madobe and Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade.

According to the sources in Baidoa, the renewed fighting was not unexpected because there had already been a number of skirmishes between the two sides in the outlying areas of Bay Region.

Shatigadud loyalists reportedly captured the town of Buur Hakaba from the Madobe-Habsade alliance on Wednesday, while a militia loyal to Adan Madobe and Habsade raided an RRA base in Wajid 90 km northwest of Baidoa and made off with 11 technicals [battlewagons] and "a huge amount of ammunition".

The latest round of fighting started when Adan-Habsade forces attacked positions of Shatigadud's militia on Thursday morning. "The situation is very fluid, with positions changing hands by the hour. It is very difficult to predict how it go".

The fighting, which reportedly died down by midday, intensified by late afternoon. "We have so far confirmed the deaths of at least 20 militia from both sides," a business source told IRIN. "There are reports of many civilian deaths, but it is difficult to ascertain, since it is impossible to move around."

Intensive mediation efforts on the part of elders and religious leaders seem to have failed. "They have been unable to bring the three together in the same room, let alone resolve their differences," he said.

Tension had been rising in Baidoa, the headquarters of the RRA, due to a deepening split between Shatigadud and his deputies over the establishment of the self-declared autonomous region of the South West State of Somalia (SWS). Shatigadud was declared SWS president in late March.