Clashes erupted as national forces and paramilitaries engaged in fighting with members of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa in an operation to recapture the strategic town of Guricel.

Fighters loyal to ASWJ were driven out of Guricel by national forces and paramilitaries in Galmudug, a region that has long faced an armed struggle by the militia.
Fighters loyal to ASWJ were driven out of Guricel by national forces and paramilitaries in Galmudug, a region that has long faced an armed struggle by the militia. (Reuters)

At least 12 people have been killed in central Somalia as pro-government forces recaptured a strategic town from militants seeking greater regional control, security officials and witnesses said. 

Fighters loyal to Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) were driven out of Guricel by national forces and paramilitaries in Galmudug, a region that has long faced an armed struggle by the militia. 

"We have so far confirmed that 12 people, four of them civilians, were killed during heavy fighting in Guricel this morning," Mohamed Bile, a military commander in Galmudug, told AFP by phone. 

"That toll could rise, but the situation is now calm and government forces are in control of most neighbourhoods."

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ASWJ fighters occupied Guricel earlier this month, taking control of Galmudug's second-largest town after a brief skirmish with local forces. 

The group has controlled many of the major cities in Galmudug over the past decade, and efforts to broker a military and political settlement to their feud with regional authorities have not succeeded. 

Galmudug information minister Ahmed Shire blamed ASWJ for provoking the latest clashes. 

"Government forces kept their positions for a month, and called on the invading parties to vacate the town peacefully, to avoid armed confrontation and inflicting civilian casualties," he told reporters.

"Unfortunately, they... attacked military bases belonging to government forces, who fiercely repelled their advance. The government has taken back control of their positions, and driven the remnants of the militia into the bush." 

Witnesses reported seeing casualties on both sides. 

"There is still sporadic gunfire in pockets of town, but I can see military vehicles belonging to the national government in the streets," said Abdirahman Ali, a local resident.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies