Thousands flee fighting in Somali capital

The toll from some of the worst fighting in Somalia’s war-wracked capital climbed to 59 on Saturday, as thousands fled the city fearing more clashes between Ethiopian forces and rebels, witnesses said.

The continuing violence came as the United Nations secretary general’s special representative to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, held talks with Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed in Nairobi over the crisis.

Sixteen bodies, including one of an Ethiopian soldier, were recovered on Saturday in and around Mogadishu’s Black Sea district, where rival sides have pounded each other with artillery fire since Thursday, witnesses said.

According to figures compiled by Agence France-Presse, the latest fighting has claimed 59 lives.

“It was a very gruesome scene. They indiscriminately shot innocent civilians who were fleeing the fighting,” said local elder Ali Muse Mohamed, referring to the Ethiopian soldiers.

Residents recovered bullet-riven bodies, ripped limbs and shattered skulls on the blood-streaked streets and in bombed-out houses. They said women and children were also targeted by the Ethiopian troops battling Islamist rebels.

“They shot any moving creature around the neighbourhood ...
They also killed children,” lamented Hassan Sugule, another elder.

“The Ethiopians are killing even the women, let alone the men, so we have no option of staying. We are looking for safety,” said Ali Mohamed Barqad, adding that his neighbourhood was deserted.

Tense calm

A tense calm prevailed in the battered city on Saturday, but rival sides dug into their positions girding up for fresh combat.

Meanwhile, thousands of residents fled Mogadishu, many on foot and others aboard trucks and on donkey, heading for the calmer outskirts already choked by hundreds of thousands who left their homes earlier, witnesses said.

The talks between Ould-Abdallah and Yusuf came a day after the UN envoy met Ali Mahdi Mohammed, who chairs a Somali government-backed reconciliation panel.

The outcome of both sets of discussions remained unclear, although they centred on stability and the appointment of a prime minister to replace Ali Mohamed Gedi, who resigned last month.

The Ethiopian army came to the rescue of the feeble Somali government last year to help it oust an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country and sought to impose Islamic law.

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was defeated earlier this year, but its remnants and allied militants have since waged a guerrilla war aiming to destroy all pro-government targets.

Two weeks of clashes in Mogadishu had already displaced at least 90 000 people, according to the UN, worsening the humanitarian crisis that has blighted the nation for 16 years.

Panic

On Saturday, panic reigned supreme in the city. “We are unable to flee to far areas because we do not have enough money,” said Nur Adan Mohamed, loading stuff on to a cart.

“Some of my family members are still trapped in Suqaholaha [neighbourhood],” said Muhubo Shilis, a mother of five who only managed to escape with three of her children. “We ask Allah to have mercy on us because nobody cares about our predicament.”

Intense fighting erupted on Thursday, killing several people, and frenzied civilians dragged the body of an Ethiopian soldier on the streets. An attempt by Ethiopian troops to recover the body worsened clashes that continued into Friday, leaving a trail of fatalities and destruction of property.

The Ethiopian army crackdown in Mogadishu has blown the lid off decades of complex ethnic, social and political hatred between the two nations, which have fought two wars in recent years.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, accused both sides of sweeping violations.

The world “should condemn these attacks and hold combatants accountable for violations of humanitarian law, including mutilating captured combatants and executing detainees”, said Peter Takirambudde, the group’s director for Africa.

In his quarterly report on Somalia, released on Thursday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said deploying UN troops was not a “realistic and viable option” and instead suggested sending a “coalition of the willing”.—Sapa-AFP

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