Somalia forces battle militia in central regions

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Somalia’s forces on Saturday battled regional militia in the centre of the country, killing a senior elite commander and several others.

The battle, which could signal growing bad blood between armed groups initially seen as moderate and the government, resulted in the death of Major Abdifatah Fayle, the commander in Galmudug State of the American-trained Elite Danab unit.

Authorities did not explain how he ended up in the region given his troops weren’t among those fighting. But a spokesman of the Galmudug State Government said the government forces had later “retaken” the town of Gur-el where the fight happened.

The incidents in Galgadud region in Central Somalia confirmed that heavy confrontations took place in Guri-el town, pitying  pro-Galmudug State forces and loyalists of moderate Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamea (ASWJ) on Saturday.

Heavy fighting erupted in the morning between Galmudug State forces supported by Somali National Army (SNA) units against militias loyal to ASWJ that had seized the strategic town in the early days of October.

Officials said confrontations started when the allied pro-Galmudug forces entered parts of the town, moving from the outskirts where they had positions, almost encircling the strategic town.

The allied forces have met resistance from the militias loyal to the Islamist ASWJ group led by Sheikh Shakir Ali Hassan, a cleric who had had convinced a good number of SNA soldiers to desert and join the ranks of his militias. His group wasn’t initially in combat with government forces as they had a common enemy in al-Shabaab. But relations worsened after representatives were axed from a proposed unity local government, raising their agitation.

The pro-government forces are said to have captured strategic positions like the police station and the district commissioner’s compound, but reports coming later in the day indicate that the Islamists have recaptured the positions lost earlier in heavier fighting that have caused the largest death toll.

Most of the civilians had left the town and were camping in the rural areas, fearing the type of clashes that had been going on all day on Saturday.

Last year, the ASWJ leaders had agreed with the Federal Government of Somalia, joining the formation of Galmudug State. But, differences that emerged later, forced its leaders including Sheikh Hassan to abandon the region.

The group, however, remerged earlier in October to reclaim its share in the election of federal parliamentarians in Galmudug State, capturing Guri-el town to assert its influence.

The prospect for war emerged when mediating between the regional government led by President Ahmed Abdi Kariye Qoorqoor and the ASWJ group failed.

On Thursday, the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA, stated that over 100,000 people had been displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.

By midday, Galmudug Information Minister Ahmed Falagle told the media, “Our forces have overwhelmed the militias and we are restoring order.”

However, reports indicate that fighting is still going on.