– Tensions had been rising since the president, a former American citizen, failed to hold scheduled elections, then extended his term in office by two years.
NAIROBI — Gunfire erupted across the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday as security forces loyal to the president clashed with units that appeared to have sided with his rivals, stoking fears that the country’s simmering political crisis is spilling over into violence.
The fighting, some of the worst in the Somali capital for years, followed months of tense talks between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and opponents who accuse him of making an unconstitutional power grab.
The talks collapsed after Mr. Mohamed failed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by February, as scheduled, and then two months later signed a law extending his term in office by two years. His actions have drawn criticism from the United States and other Western allies.
The moves effectively ended United Nations-mediated negotiations backed by the United States and added fuel to an already combustible political situation.
American officials said they had privately warned Mr. Mohamed, a one-time American citizen, against using the Danab, an American-trained commando force of about 900 soldiers, to crack down on his opponents. But they acknowledged that Mr. Mohamed has other options, including Turkish-trained troops estimated to number at least 2,600 men.
By Monday morning, the fighting had spilled over two other towns, according sources. Its reported that at least 11 people were killed early on Monday after fighting broke out between the Somali federal army and Jubbaland state forces in the Gedo region of southwestern Somalia, a local doctor told the media.
Somalia’s federal government confirmed there had been fighting, concentrated in the town of Bula Hawa bordering Kenya. But it and Jubbaland, one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states, reported no casualties.
Mogadishu accused Kenya of backing Jubbaland in the fighting, an accusation that Jubbaland denies.
“Kenya and its guerrilla rebels attacked Bula Hawa,” Osman Dube, Somalia’s information minister, told reporters in Mogadishu. “We overpowered the enemy and captured 100 of them.”
Kenya’s security minister, Fred Matiang’i, said “no troops” had crossed into Somalia and called it an internal Somali matter.
Kenya’s foreign ministry called for hostilities to cease, warning that “the situation could further destabilize the region, complicate the security situation and reverse gains made in the fight against terrorism.”
“We received 11 dead civilians, including five from one family. And 14 other civilians were injured,” Mohamud Gomey, a doctor at Bula Hawa hospital, said.
Mohamud Sayid Aden, Jubbaland’s vice president, told reporters that federal forces had shelled residential areas.
“The shells landed on a house and killed a family of five people,” he said.
The Somali government blamed local forces for the shelling of residential areas.
The fighting precedes an election on Feb. 8 that was delayed from December because of disagreements between the government and opposition over the make-up of the electoral board.
The bloodshed could further damage strained relations between Mogadishu and Nairobi, as well as the whole East Africa region.
Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya in December, accusing it of political meddling after Somalia expelled Kenya’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy after alleging interference in the electoral process in Jubbaland.
Earlier in February the United Nations Security Council had voted to renew the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia – AMISOM, a peacekeeping force first deployed in the country in 2007 when Uganda sent in about 2000 soldiers.
AMISOM is a peace support operation with nearly 20,000 forces on the ground mainly from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti.
Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are the six police contributing countries in Somalia.
AMISOM has been in Somalia backing the Somali federal government and fighting against the al-Shabaab terrorist group since Jan. 19, 2007.