MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist fighters attacked government positions near the president’s palace in a third day of fighting as the death toll hit 60, residents and a human rights group said on Friday.
Witnesses said government forces backed by African Union troops launched a barrage of artillery fire to repel the al Qaeda-linked fighters.
Meanwhile, the government also called for a probe into all non-governmental organisations operating in the country after a report by the United Nations’ Somalia Monitoring Group said aid was being diverted to insurgents.
“Al Shabaab fighters arrived this morning at Aden Ade junction near the palace and fired mortars at the palace, prompting heavier shells,” resident Abdi Abdullahi told Reuters.
The Elman rights group said six civilians died and 23 were injured as the clashes shifted to the Bakara market from where the rebels had launched their attack.
At least 54 people were killed in the first two days of fighting as rebels tried to destabilise the government before a long-awaited offensive aimed at driving the insurgents out of Mogadishu.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government for 19 years and Western and neighbouring countries say the country provides sanctuary for militants intent on launching attacks in east Africa and beyond.
President Sheikh Ahmed Sharif’s administration controls little more than a few streets in the capital, leaving it to aid agencies to provide basic essentials for millions of people.
But a United Nations report seen by Reuters on Thursday said U.N. agencies had unwittingly allowed aid to enrich rebels and criminals.
“All non-governmental organisations should be probed,” Abdirashid Mohamed, state minister for interior, told reporters late on Thursday.
“We want the agencies to register with the government so that we know what they do and where they operate.”
Residents of Mogadishu were seen fleeing their homes on Friday, carrying household belongings stacked high on beaten-up cars and minivans, some ferrying as many as 30 passengers.
The U.N. refugee agency said an estimated 100,000 civilians had been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the year. It warned thousands of displaced Mogadishu residents were trapped inside the capital, unable to escape.
Additional reporting by Abdi Guled and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Duncan Miriri and George Obulutsa; Editing by Richard Lough