Fresh fighting in Mogadishu ahead of peace talks

Heavy fighting erupted in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, leaving an indeterminate number of people dead or wounded, a local journalist told IRIN.

He said the fighting, in the southwest Medina district, was the result of an attempt by Mogadishu faction leader Muse Sudi Yalahow to strengthen his position before the anticipated Nairobi peace talks in September.

"Every time there is a peace conference on the horizon, each warlord tries to get rid of his immediate rival," said the journalist. "Yalahow wants to be the only one at the table from his clan."

The fighting broke out at around 05:00 local time (02:00 GMT) when militia loyal to Muse Sudi Yalahow attacked a house belonging to one of his counterparts, Umar Mahmud Muhammad Finish. Finish, is Yalahow's former right-hand man, and both belong to the Da'ud subclan of the Abgal.

The two erstwhile allies fell out after Finish signed a peace agreement with the Transitional National Government (TNG) brokered by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi in the Kenyan town of Nakuru last year.

Yalahow leads the United Somali Congress/Somali Salvation Alliance, and is a senior member of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, a grouping of southern factions opposed to the TNG.

Finish's forces reportedly have the upper hand and have pushed back Yalahow's forces from positions they previously occupied, Atrey Abukar, a local resident, told IRIN. "They are nowhere near where they were this morning [Tuesday]," she said.

Abdullahi Shaykh Hasan, a spokesman for Finish, told IRIN that their forces were in control of the greater part of Medina. "I am now speaking to you from Muse Sudi's [former] headquarters in Medina," he said. The Medina district was controlled by Yalahow throughout the Somali civil war.

According to Hasan, Finish's forces have captured two technicals (pick-ups mounted with heavy weapons) from Yalahow, and destroyed another. Attempts by IRIN to contact the Yalahow camp were unsuccessful.

The fighting died down at around 11:00 local time, with Yalahow's forces reportedly regrouping in north Mogadishu, the journalist said. The exact number of dead and wounded was still unknown, but could be high, "given the intensity of the fighting at the early stages", he added.