, MOGADISHU, Nov 21 – At least 17 people, many of them fighters, were killed in heavy clashes between Somalia\’s Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents and a pro-government militia over territorial control, witnesses said Sunday.
The pro-government fighters, Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, attacked the Shebab in Wardhumale village in central Somalia late Saturday and the clashes resumed on Sunday. Both sides claimed victory.
"Seventeen people, most of them combatants from the two sides, were kiled in the clashes, but the death toll could rise since some dead bodies are still strewn in the battlefield," said Mohamed Moalim Weheliye, an elder in a nearby town said.
Other villagers who fled the fighting also said around 20 people had been killed in the battles and more than 50 were wounded.
"I have fled from a village close to Wardhumale… although we don\’t have the exact number of the casualty, nearly 20 people were confirmed dead," said Abdullahi Duale.
The Shebab spokesman Sheik Abdiaziz Abu Musab told reporters in Mogadishu Sunday that they had overpowered their enemies.
"The enemy of Allah attacked our positions in a village in central Somalia yesterday and we defeated them and killed many of their fighters," said Abu Musab.
But the Ahlu Sunna spokesman dismissed the claims.
"Our forces with help from Allah destroyed the enemy around several villages in central Somalia. Many of their dead bodies are lying around the contested areas today," said Sheik Yusuf Abu Qadi.
The two sides have repeatedly fought over control of territory in the lawless Somalia ruled mainly by the Shebab, who over the past three years have seized large territory in the southern and central regions.
The Horn of Africa country has known no peace in nearly two decades since the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre which triggered internecine fighting between rival armed groups.