Mogadishu: Islamist insurgents beheaded three Somali soldiers south of the capital on Thursday.
UN envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said he would try to set up peace talks between the opposition and government.
It was the first case of beheadings since the government and its Ethiopian military allies ousted the Islamists from power in late 2006, sparking a bloody insurgency characterised by roadside bombs and hit-and-run attacks.
"This morning the mujahideen attacked the so-called
government troops guarding the roads for the Ethiopian forces. We killed three of them," said Muktar Ali Robow, a senior commander of the Islamists' Shabab youth wing.
Witnesses in the area said they saw three headless corpses near Lego town, 130 km (81 miles) south of Mogadishu.
"We were terrified because we have never seen a human slaughtered like an animal," truck driver Hassan Mohamed Amin told Reuters.
At least 7,000 people have died, and hundreds of thousands been displaced in the 15-month insurgency, creating what aid workers call one of the world's worst yet most ignored humanitarian crises.
The government appealed again this week for its foes to join talks led by the United Nations.
"I have no doubt that all Somalis and their concerned
friends, governments and organisations will support this move," said Mr Ould-Abdallah.
Analysts believe, however, it is unlikely Islamist-led
insurgents, many of whom view their attacks on the
Western-backed government as a jihad or holy war, could be persuaded to join.