Somali militants said Wednesday they had paraded the bodies of five African Union peacekeepers killed in fighting and also were holding a soldier from Burundi captive after intense battles in the capital.
The fighting appeared to come amid a major push in Mogadishu by Somali troops and African Union peacekeepers against the militants. Heavy fighting had broken out over the weekend after AU troops discovered a trench used by militants to move supplies and fighters in the capital.
The violence started Wednesday after AU peacekeepers and Somali troops launched a dawn attack on rebel positions, seizing the former Somalia Ministry of Defense building, which had been serving as the militants' base, according to Maj. Barigye Bahoku, a spokesman for the AU troops.
Bahoku declined to comment on reports of heavy losses by the AU troops.
An al-Shabab spokesman, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, said that militants had killed five peacekeepers and captured one alive. He said the militants had paraded the bodies of the five men.
A Nairobi-based diplomat who quoted defense sources in Mogadishu said reports indicated that up to 10 African Union troops were killed and dozens were wounded in Wednesday's fighting. The diplomat said he could not be quoted by name because his organization does not allow it.
Somalia's prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, said Wednesday that government-allied troops are expanding control of the capital.
"Our troops have recently been in preparations for war. They started the operation today and successfully defeated the enemy," Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed told reporters. "We are requesting the world to help us in fighting the terrorists in Somalia."
Fighting was also reported on the Kenya-Somalia border, near the Kenyan town of Mandera. Kenya troops reportedly responded to the violence, but exact casualty figures weren't available.
On Monday a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car at a police station in Mogadishu, killing eight people.
That came after African Union peacekeepers said Sunday they discovered and seized control of a mile-long trench that al-Shabab militants used to move fighters and ammunition in and out of government-held districts. The discovery of the trench provoked two days of heavy fighting in an area near the popular Bakara market, which is controlled by militants.
Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, has been the epicenter of the country's two decades of violence. A fully functioning government hasn't been in power since 1991.