, MOGADISHU, Oct 19 – Fresh fighting pitting pro-government forces against Islamist insurgents near Beledweyne in central Somalia has left at least 12 combatants dead, officials and witnesses said Tuesday.
The clashes, which residents said were the heaviest in the area in weeks, started Monday morning in mountainous areas around the town and lasted through the day.
"We attacked the enemy and defeated them and we took control of several of their positions," Dahir Abdulle, a commander of the pro-government force battling the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab movement in the region, said.
"More than 10 people were killed during the fighting, most of them from Shebab ranks," he claimed.
Beledweyne is a strategic town located some 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu and near the Ethiopian border. It has been routinely disputed by government forces, local clan militias and Islamist insurgent groups.
"Very heavy fighting erupted near Beledweyne and lasted until sunset (Monday). Both sides suffered heavy casualties. So far witnesses in the area have reported 12 deaths, all of them combatants," Ali Moalim Said, an elder in Beledweyne, told AFP by phone.
"Tension is at its highest in the region right now and it is clear that the fighting is not over," he said, adding that both sides had reinforced their positions Monday night.
The past few days have seen a surge in military movement and armed clashes along Somalia\’s border with Ethiopia amid speculation that a major new front was opening between the pro-government forces and insurgents who have been fighting over Mogadishu for months.