updated 5/10/2006 12:28:45 PM ET 2006-05-10T16:28:45

Islamic militiamen and secular fighters battled for control of Somalia’s capital Wednesday despite promises of a cease-fire, and the death toll rose to at least 96, with nearly 200 wounded.

The firing of heavy weapons echoed through the city as fighting spread to another Mogadishu neighborhood. The battle between the Islamic Court Union and the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has centered on the northern neighborhood of Sii-Sii, with neither side gaining an advantage.

Most of the victims were civilians caught in the crossfire.

“Despite the Islamic courts’ unilateral cease-fire, there are no traces of an end to the hostilities,” said Abdi Kariin, a foreign exchange dealer.

Pleas to end violence
The U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, issued a statement appealing for “leaders on both sides to step back from the brink and reconsider the damage they are inflicting on the population.”

“Whatever the allegiances, the intermittent conflict between heavily armed camps has resulted in indiscriminate loss of life and has created fear and chaos for those civilians trapped in the crossfire,” he said. “The indiscriminate use of heavy machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and artillery in and between urban areas is unacceptable.”

Islamic Court Union chairman Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed had said his group would observe a cease-fire from late Tuesday, but it never took hold.

Abdulahi Shir’wa, a civil leader, said neutral groups were trying to meet with the two militias to negotiate another cease-fire, without success.

Nuur Daqle, one of the alliance’s commanders, said he was ready to observe a cease-fire and had been told that the Islamic court militias were also ready to stop fighting, but that so far, he had seen no let up in the battle.

“We are ready to cease fire, but the so-called Islamic courts are unreliable, they are offering, but keep on shooting at us,” he said. A spokesman for the courts could not be immediately reached from comment.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi also called on all sides to stop fighting from his government’s headquarters in Baidoa, 150 miles west of Mogadishu. Although his government has U.N. backing, it has so far failed to assert itself outside of Baidoa.

No real government
Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991, when warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned on each other — carving this nation of an estimated 8 million people into a patchwork of anarchic, clan-based fiefdoms.

Islamic fundamentalists have portrayed themselves as an alternative capable of bringing order and peace, but they have not hesitated to use force and have allegedly linked up with al-Qaida terrorists.

The secular Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism militia and the Islamic Court Union militia have been squaring off for several weeks to stake out strategic positions in preparation for a larger battle for control of Mogadishu.

Rumors abound that the United States is backing the secular forces. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed told The Associated Press last week that he believes Washington is supporting the secular alliance, which includes ministers in an interim Cabinet, as a way of fighting several top al-Qaida operatives that are being protected by radical clerics. Ahmed offered no evidence, and the U.S. has said only that it had met with a wide variety of Somali leaders to try to fight international terrorists in the country.

Meanwhile, victims are pouring into the capital’s hospitals.

“Referring to the information I receive from the main hospitals in Mogadishu this morning, at least 90 people were killed and nearly 200 others wounded since the fighting flared up on Sunday,” said Dr. Mohamed Hassan of Ayaan Hospital.

Officials later said another six people had died in Wednesday’s fighting.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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