* Rebels and government forces exchange shellfire
* Two people killed over spying accusations
By Abdi Sheikh and Abdi Guled
MOGADISHU, March 10 (Reuters) - At least eight people were killed and 21 wounded in fighting between Somali government forces and al Shabaab rebels on Wednesday in the north of Mogadishu, a Somali human rights group said.
Residents said al Shabaab also beheaded two employees of a telecommunications company in the capital who had been accused by the al Qaeda-linked insurgents of spying for the government.
Somali insurgents have been fighting the Horn of Africa country’s government since the start of 2007 and the Western-backed administration has been hemmed into a few blocks of the capital since a rebel offensive last May.
The government has said for several months it will launch a major offensive but has yet to carry out the plan. Rebels have stepped up attacks in various parts of the city in recent weeks and government forces have responded with shelling.
“At least eight people died and 21 others were wounded. These include women and children,” Ali Yasin Gedi, the vice-chairman of the Elman peace and human rights group, told Reuters. “Both groups exchanged heavy shelling.”
The beheaded telecoms company staff had been accused by al Shabaab of helping to direct government shells towards rebel positions in Mogadishu, residents said.
“We could see the two beheaded bodies lying on the street but we were afraid to carry them away,” said resident Abdullahi Karshe.
Somalia has had no effective government for 19 years and Western nations and neighbours say the anarchic country is used as a shelter by militants intent on launching attacks in east Africa and further afield.
The chaos onshore has allowed pirate gangs to flourish and make millions of dollars from hijacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. (Editing by David Clarke and Andrew Dobbie)