Friday, January 5, 2007
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 4 -- Somali government troops backed by Ethiopian soldiers battled about 600 Islamic militiamen Thursday on the southern tip of this Horn of Africa country, and U.S. Navy forces prevented the Islamic fighters from fleeing by sea, authorities said.
Somalia's interior minister, Hussein Farah Aideed, said thousands of Islamic fighters were still hiding in the capital.
"There are 3,500 Islamists hiding in Mogadishu and in the surrounding areas, and they are likely to destabilize the security of the city," he said.
Kenya has closed its border because of concerns that the militiamen might slip across. That has prevented thousands of Somali refugees from seeking safety in Kenya, U.N. officials said.
Somali gunmen also attacked an oil tank truck near Mogadishu, wounding three people, and a hand grenade was thrown at Ethiopian troops backing the interim government in the capital, a resident said, according to the Reuters news agency. No one was hurt in the latter incident.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the United States will provide $16 million in aid to Somalia and that the installation of a new government there gives Somalis a chance to move beyond two decades of chaos.
Rice has dispatched her top aide for African affairs, Jendayi E. Frazer, to the region for discussions on promoting a peacekeeping force for Somalia and to urge a political dialogue leading to national reconciliation.