Mogadishu,(AFP)4th October 2002,
At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded when rival militias fought for control of Somalia's south-central town of Baidoa on Thursday, a spokesman for one of the factions said on Thursday. "We lost five and killed 15 rival gunmen in the fighting that gave us the opportunity to capture Baidoa," a spokesman for one of the warring Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) faction, Sharif Hussein Robbow, told AFP by telephone.
Militiamen loyal to two warlords, Sheikh Aden Mohamed Madobe and Mohamed Ibrahim Habsade, said they seized the town from the control of an other RRA leader, Hassan Mohamed Nur Shatigudud, rly on Thursday. Shatigudud's supporters admitted that they had made a "tactical withdrawal" from Baidoa and that they were preparing for a counter-offensive. Robow said among the killed included Shatigudud's top military commander Mohamed Aden Iskow.
"Baidoa is in full control of two RRA deputies, Madobe and Mohamed Ibrahim Habsade. Please don't panic, there will be no violence," said an announcement made in the town early Thursday over a loudspeaker mounted on an armed vehicle. But the claim could not be independently verified, as earlier reports had said only six people were killed in the clashes. Fighting within the RRA started with an internal power struggle between Shatigudud and his two deputies, who later allied themselves to the Mogadishu-based Transitional National Government (TNG).
The latter grouped their militia in nearby districts before launching the Thursday raid. Shatigudud has controlled Baidoa since August 1 when he expelled forces of his two deputies, during fighting that claimed 94 lives and left some 170 people wounded. Shatigudud and his two former deputies had been at loggerheads since March over the new, unilaterally declared independent South-West State of Somalia (SWS). Shatigudud was appointed its first president, but refused to relinquish the RRA command.
Civilians fled Baidoa on Thursday and some residents reached by telephone from Mogadishu reported seeing armed gangs looting property in the town. Somalia last had a nationally recognised government in 1991 when the regime of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre collapsed. Since then, the Horn of Africa nation has been driven by clan warfare, despite the setting up of a transitional government in 2000 after lengthy inter-clan talks in neighbouring Djibouti.