By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU, Jan 15 (Reuters) – Fighting in central Somalia has killed at least 138 people and displaced 63,000 others in the last two weeks, a rights group said on Friday.
Hizbul Islam and its rival, al Shabaab — branded by Washington as an al Qaeda proxy in the region — want to impose a strict version of Islamic sharia law in the Horn of Africa nation that has had no functional central government since 1991.
Their fighters and those of government-allied Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca have been involved in clashes for control of three towns in central Somalia.
“At least 138 people died and 344 others were injured in the last two weeks’ fighting in central Somalia,” Ali Yasin Gedi, the vice chairman of the Elman human rights group, told Reuters.
“The recent fighting between Ahlu Sunna, and al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam on one side has also displaced 63,000 people from Galgadud and Hiiraan regions.”
Ahlu Sunna, which is aligned to President Sheikh Shari Ahmed’s weak U.N.-backed administration, advocates a more moderate version of Islam.
It fought with Hizbul Islam insurgents in Baladwayne. Hizbul Islam also clashed with al Shabaab in Dhobley, a town near the border with Kenya.
Since the start of 2007, violence has killed at least 19,000 Somalis and displaced 1.5 million people.
The United Nation’s refugee agency said earlier this week the recent fighting in central and southern Somalia was sending more refugees into neighbouring countries.
UNHCR said 3,000 Somalis were registered as refugees in Ethiopia in December and 4,175 had registered in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp since December. It said the total number of Somali refugees in the region now stood at over 560,000. (Editing by George Obulutsa and Giles Elgood)