Mogadishu (ANTARA News/AFP) - Somali government forces and African Union troops battled insurgents on Thursday in heavy fighting in the capital Mogadishu in efforts to secure aid routes for drought victims.

At least 27 civilians were injured in the fighting, medics said.

The clashes come just a day after the UN World Food Programme began an airlift of emergency relief into the war-torn capital, to bring supplies for thousands at risk of starvation from an extreme drought in the Horn of Africa.

"Our troops have dealt with specific security threats in a short tactical offensive operation," the spokesman for the African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) Paddy Ankunda said in a statement.

The assault aimed to "ensure that aid agencies can continue to operate and get vital supplies to internally displaced persons," he added.

Three positions in the city had been captured in a "limited and pinpoint offensive" Ankunda said.

Fighting erupted near the city`s key Bakara market and Suqbacad areas, with both sides exchanging heavy machinegun and artillery fire.

Witnesses told AFP that the AU troops and tanks crossed a road that has acted as a frontline in their war with the hardline Shebab insurgents, and moved into the Suqbacad area.

"We have counted around 27 civilian casualties, they were caught in the crossfire," said Mohamed Abdiwahab, an ambulance driver in Mogadishu.

"The few people who still were in the area have now started to flee," said Muktar Ahmed, a resident of the Suqbacad neighbourhood.

Shebab Islamists have vowed to topple the Western-backed transitional government, and chase out the AMISOM troops supporting it.

But the Al-Qaeda inspired Shebab have been losing ground in the capital in recent months as pro-government troops and AMISOM have clawed their way back to several key positions.

At least 10 Shebab fighters and two government soldiers were killed, while two AMISON troops were wounded, officials said.

"We have advanced on key positions in south eastern Mogadishu, defeating the enemy and killing more than 10 of them," said Abdulahi Ali, a Somali government officer.

Shebeb oficials could not be immediatly contacted.

Fighting died down later on Thursday, but sporadic shelling could still be heard, an AFP reporter said.

Somalia is the Horn of Africa country worst affected by a prolonged drought, that has put some 12 million people in danger of starvation and spurred a global fund-raising campaign.

Nearly half of Somalia`s estimated 10 million people are in need of relief assistance, owing to the effects of the relentless violence and the drought that prompted the UN to declare famine for the first time this century.


(Uu.SYS/C/M014/C/M014) 29-07-2011 03:44:17

Editor: Kunto Wibisono
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