Somalia: Blast strikes Mogadishu

By Guled Mohamed

MOGADISHU, June 18 (Reuters) - A large blast killed two civilians in Mogadishu on Monday close to the venue for next month's planned peace conference that has already been delayed twice over security fears, police said.

"The explosion happened as some government officials were passing, but they survived. However, two civilians were killed on the spot," Abdullahi Hassan Bariise, Somali police head of operations, told Reuters Television.

Monday's blast -- the latest in a string of guerrilla-style strikes against the interim government and its Ethiopian military allies -- came when an unknown attacker detonated a landmine by remote control as government vehicles passed.

Mogadishu's deputy mayor in charge of security, Abdifatah Ibrahim Omar, told Reuters two children were wounded in the explosion which missed its intended target. It was unclear if those two were the victims later confirmed dead by police.

Omar said five suspects had been arrested.

Witness Abdullahi Yere, who was standing outside his nearby house, said there were many government troops in the area when the explosion ripped through an intersection.

"I heard a loud explosion that shook the whole ground near me. I saw a burning car thrown high in the sky by the intensity of the explosion," Yere told Reuters.


Insurgents from a militant Islamist movement ousted from Mogadishu routinely attack government soldiers and their Ethiopian backers, and have increasingly used Iraq-style tactics including assassinations, suicide bombings and roadside blasts.

The reconciliation conference, which many diplomats say is the interim government's best chance to boost its legitimacy and quell the violence, was due to be held last week at a rundown and bullet-scared former police compound.

But the government postponed it for a second time, saying some clans had asked for more time to choose delegates and that the venue was still being refurbished.

A security source, speaking anonymously, said the explosion was an insurgent move to "edge closer to the venue of the reconciliation conference."

He added: "This is a message they are trying to convey to the government, warning the government against the proposed reconciliation meeting."

Security experts and diplomats say poor security in Mogadishu and the threat of insurgent attacks targeting the conference necessitated its delay to July 18.

Mogadishu is one of the world's most heavily armed and dangerous cities as capital of a nation that became a byword for anarchy after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

This government is the 14th attempt at asserting central rule in the Horn of Africa nation since then. (Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed and Farah Roble)


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