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Somalis flee fierce fighting in Mogadishu

Story Highlights

• More Ethiopian troops arrive in Mogadishu to help fight Islamic insurgency
• More than 100 soldiers and civilians killed in the last three days
• Residents fleeing Mogadishu by the thousands each day for central Somalia
By Mohamed Amiin
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MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- Fighting raged Saturday in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, and a local human rights group reported dozens of casualties and scores of people fleeing the chaotic city -- a persistent hotbed of violence spawned by the fighting between Ethiopian troops and Islamic insurgents.

Sudani Ali Ahmed, the head of Elman Human Rights Group, said 52 civilians and 12 insurgents were killed Saturday. He said more than 100 civilians have been wounded, and many people have been displaced.

Fighting has intensified in the past two days, and more Ethiopian troops arrived Friday in Mogadishu to suppress the insurgency.

Witnesses described a continuous stream of mortar bombs and Katyusha rockets slamming into markets and neighborhoods in Somalia's capital city Saturday.

According to Somali journalist Mohamed Amiin, a civilian minibus was struck by the shelling, killing an unspecified number of passengers. One witness told Amiin the blast was so powerful, body parts were scattered in the street.

Elman estimated that at least 113 soldiers and civilians were killed in three days of fighting ending Friday.

The fighting is between Ethiopian troops, who are supporting Somalia's transitional government forces, and remnant fighters from the Islamic Courts Union, which was ousted from power late last year. Another 229 people have been wounded, the group said.

The death toll among the insurgent forces, who are trying to oust Ethiopian-backed interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, is unknown.

No one is saying which side has the upper hand in the fighting, although the level of shelling and machine gun fire has risen in the past day.

According to Amiin, two types of explosives are causing the widespread damage -- Katyusha rockets, fired by the Ethiopians, and mortar bombs, fired by the insurgency.

The areas hit heaviest include the city's main market, the grounds near the presidential palace, and two neighborhoods considered insurgent strongholds.

Saturday marked the second day of government-enforced road closures, but residents nonetheless have been fleeing -- many on foot. Elman is calling for the government to allow fleeing civilians to leave the city.

The city's population has been dwindling day by day and, according to Amiin, many big neighborhoods are empty. Even opportunistic would-be looters have not taken to the streets, he said.

Many have fled to central Somalia, posing a challenge for aid agencies trying to distribute relief supplies to the displaced people.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Friday said one town, Afgooye, "now has an estimated 40,000 displaced Somalis who have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February -- nearly a fifth of the 213,000 Somalis who are believed to have fled the capital."

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Armed Islamic insurgents gather on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

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