Fighting in Somalia's Puntland kills at least 27

Sat Sep 3, 2011 10:19am GMT

By Mohamed Ahmed

MOGADISHU, Sept 3 (Reuters) - At least 27 people have been killed in heavy fighting near the border of two semi-autonomous regions of Somalia, witnesses said on the eve of a political conference to hammer out a road map towards elections in the chaotic country.

Puntland's security ministry said its forces had repelled a two-day attack by al Shabaab militants in the north of Galkayo town, which its troops control, and accused the authorities of the Galmudug region, who control the south of Galkayo, of harbouring the militants.

The latest clashes and escalation in rhetoric risk spilling over into the three-day political talks starting on Sunday, the first major nationwide conference to be held in war-battered Mogadishu in four years.

"The fighting erupted (on Thursday) after al Shabaab terrorists opened fire on Puntland security forces intending to arrest members of a terrorist cell who organise assassinations and bombings," the security ministry said in a statement late on Friday.

Witnesses said the fighting had subsided early on Saturday but that bodies still lay strewn in the town's streets and tensions remained high.

"I myself counted 17 corpses," resident Abdikadir Ahmed told Reuters from Galkayo's Garsoor neighbourhood, where the fighting started.

A nurse said the town's main hospital had received more than seventy wounded fighters and civilians, of whom at least 10 had died on the operating table.

Puntland says there has been an escalation in guerrilla-style attacks on its territory since the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels began waging a bloody insurgency four years ago, bent on imposing an austere version of sharia law on Somalis.   Continued...

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