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13.05.2006 Somalia

US, UN call for Somalia ceasefire

By bbc
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The US and UN have joined calls for a ceasefire in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, following six days of bitter fighting between rival militias.

A number of Somali clan elders have been trying to broker a truce.

At least 12 people died on Friday. The Red Cross says 80 have been killed this week, while some militia sources say the figure is at least twice that.

An Islamist militia is fighting an alliance of warlords it says is backed by the United States.

The UN says the Islamists now control 80% of the capital.

The United Nations, United States and Somali parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden all called on Friday for an end to the fighting, the most intense in years.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged all sides to put down their weapons.

A group of clan elders has been mediating with militia leaders to try to bring about a ceasefire.

Mediator Sheikh Mohamud Ibrahim Jumale said: "Elders are making last efforts to end the hostilities but the two sides have yet to agree."

The warlords were demanding the Islamists withdraw as a precondition, he said.

Residents have been forced to flee or hide in storm drains amid an almost constant barrage of mortar shells and gunfire.

The fighting has been concentrated in the CC district, where the clashes began on Sunday.

BBC Africa editor David Bamford says the fighting began when warlords who had divided Mogadishu into fiefdoms united to tackle a growing Islamist force.

He says the Islamists have managed to confine the four main warlords and their militias to separate pockets on the edges of the city.

This has raised concern that Somalia's Islamists - if victorious - could end up providing an East African shelter for foreign Islamic militants, our correspondent says.

The US has not confirmed or denied backing the warlords but says it would "work with responsible individuals... in fighting terror".

Dr Sheikh don Salad Elmi, the director of Medina hospital in South Mogadishu, where many have been brought in with severe injuries, said the fighting was affecting up to 200,000 inhabitants.

This is the second round of serious fighting in Mogadishu this year. In March, clashes between the two sides killed at least 90 people.

Somalia has not had an effective national authority for 15 years since the ousting of President Siad Barre in 1991.