'Many dead' in Somalia Islamist attacks on Ethiopian troops

An offensive by Somalia's Islamist Shebab fighters on Ethiopian troops on Saturday left many combatants dead, military sources on both sides and witnesses said.

"The fighting around the village of Yurkut was the most intense since Ethiopian forces entered Somalia" in November, said one of the witnesses in the country's southwestern region, Abukar Moalim Yarow.

Military sources in both camps gave differing tolls but stressed the fierceness of the fighting, which lasted three hours, according to independent witnesses.

"The mujahideen fighters led their most important military incursion against enemy positions in Yurkut," Sheikh Mohamed Abu-Fatma, a top Shebab commander in the sector, said by telephone.

"We forced the enemy to temporarily abandon three barracks and we killed more than 40 of their men," he added.

Kalif Adan, a pro-government official, said from Baidoa that the Shebab "attacked Yurkut this morning. Many of them were killed in fierce fighting."

"The fighting is now over and (the Shebab) have been heavily beaten."

The hardline Shebab attacked Ethiopian positions in Yurkut, near the strategic town of Luuq, on the road linking the Somalia-Ethiopia border with Baidoa, a former rebel bastion in southern Somalia which Ethiopian forces recaptured last month.

Somalia has been plagued by a relentless conflict since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

In February Somali and world leaders met in London for a conference aimed at finding solutions to the Horn of Africa country's protracted crisis that has spawned piracy, militancy and a devastating humanitarian crisis.

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