Death Toll Rises to 85 in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The death-toll from battles between Islamist-led insurgents and allied Ethiopian-Somali troops rose to 85 on Monday, leaving corpses on the streets and deepening the Horn of Africa nation's humanitarian crisis.

After mortars and machine-gun fire rocked Mogadishu over the weekend in the worst fighting for months, Islamist fighters seized the southern coastal town of Guda, killing four Somali soldiers and wounding at least seven more, locals said.

"The town is under their control at the moment," politician Omar Abdullahi Farole said from the area.

That attack at dawn on Monday added to at least 81 people dead in Mogadishu over the weekend.

The rebels have in the last few months conducted an increasing number of hit-and-run raids on small towns -- seizing control from local government-allied militias, only to melt away before reinforcements arrive.

Analysts say the Islamists' militant al Shabaab wing is behind the attacks, which appear to be a show of strength designed to stretch the Ethiopian and Somali troops, rather than an attempt to win and hold territory.

Washington last month put Shabaab on its terrorism list.

Backed by Ethiopia, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government drove the Islamists out of Mogadishu at the end of 2006, but has since then faced an Iraq-style insurgency of near-daily assassinations and roadside bombings.

The violence has swelled an internal refugee population of about 1 million. The weekend fighting in Mogadishu was mainly in the already largely deserted northern part of the city, but Reuters reporters saw scores of Somalis heading out of the capital.

Once again in the city's violent history, bodies lay on the streets uncollected.

"This morning as I was trying to escape the fighting which I feared might restart, I saw four dead men I knew lying in the neighborhood," Hussein Abdulle, a resident of the city, said by telephone.