At least 14 people were killed and more than 20 injured as heavy fighting broke out in Mogadishu after government troops launched a dawn attack on a house belonging to a former militia leader as part of a disarmament campaign, residents and officials said.
Explosions and gunfire were heard on Friday in the Somali capital as government troops backed by African Union forces battled militiamen.
“At least 14 people, mostly militia, died in the fighting this morning. The government’s aim is to secure the city,” Major Abdullahi Farah, a senior police officer, told Reuters.
Government forces want to disarm fighters loyal to Ahmed Daaci, a former militia leader and ex-district commissioner of Mogadishu’s Wadajir.
Fatima Ali, a Mogadishu mother of four, said the battle sent everyone in her house to the ground for safety.
“We are very terrified,” she said. “We haven’t heard something like this for some time,” she told the Associated Press.
Launched last week, the Somali government’s latest disarmament campaign is an attempt to reduce the number of weapons that could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
Raids over the last week have netted about 500 guns and hundreds of boxes of ammunition, said Mohamed Yusuf, the spokesman for Somalia’s national security ministry.
The Small Arms Survey, a research project based in Switzerland, says world governments in recent years have covertly delivered “tens of thousands of small arms and light weapons to various armed groups in Somalia despite a long-standing UN arms embargo”.
Somali civilians own more than 500,000 guns, the group estimates.
During the early 1990s, US Marines fighting militia leader Mohammed Farah Aidid tried to carry out a disarmament campaign. It had only limited success.
Some believe the campaign is a political witch hunt aimed at weeding out rivals of the country’s leadership as Somalia gears up for a proposed 2016 national election.
A proposed disarmament law has been approved by the government’s cabinet but has not yet been voted on by parliament. Al jazeera