/ 21 April 2008

Corpses litter Mogadishu streets after weekend battles

Corpses lay on the streets of Mogadishu on Monday after at least 81 people were killed in battles over the weekend between Islamist-led insurgents and Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia’s interim government.

Northern districts of the coastal capital suffered the worst of the most intense fighting for months, with both sides exchanging barrages of mortar rounds and heavy machine-gun fire.

The city was quiet early on Monday.

”This morning [Monday] as I was trying to escape the fighting which I feared might restart, I saw four dead men I knew lying in the neighbourhood,” resident Hussein Abdulle said by telephone. Another resident, Abdulahi Mohamud, said that at least 20 people — mostly women and children — were trapped in a mosque where Ethiopian tank crews had dug deep defensive trenches.

”Two Somalis who have been beheaded are also lying there,” Mohamud said from the northern district of Huruwa.

The Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies are trying to crush remnants of a hard-line sharia courts movement that they chased out of Mogadishu at the end of 2006.

The Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation, a local group which tracks the violence, says at least 81 people were killed and 119 wounded in the clashes on Saturday and Sunday.

Its researchers estimate that about 6 500 residents were killed last year by fighting in the capital alone, while 1,5-million were uprooted from their homes.

Aid workers say 250 000 civilians sheltering in squalid conditions just outside Mogadishu are considered the biggest group of internally displaced people in the world.

President Abdullahi Yusuf’s interim government says it has a right to self defence in the face of a deepening Iraq-style insurgency of near-daily assassinations and roadside bombings that it blames on the Islamists.

The rebels have also launched an increasing number of hit-and-run raids on smaller towns — seizing control from local administrations that are often little more than militias, only to melt away before government reinforcements arrive. — Reuters