Mogadishu braces for final insurgent assault

Somalia’s president was holed up in his compound and residents fleeing Mogadishu on Thursday, as Islamist insurgents prepared for a final push to seize power, witnesses and officials said.

Insurgents have been redeploying many forces from across the country to launch an unprecedented offensive, while Ugandan and Burundian African Union peacekeepers held the fort for Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s beleaguered administration.

“We know they have deployed many militants and are getting ready for their final attack but they will never win,” Somali government security officer Colonel Ahmed Dahir told AFP in Mogadishu.

Ahmed, who was elected Somalia’s president in January and received international backing, has not been able to build up his own security forces and his authority appeared to hang by a thread after days of fighting that killed dozens and wounded hundreds.

Government forces backed AU peacekeepers controlled nothing in the capital but the presidential compound, a handful of other government institutions in adjacent buildings, as well as the airport and the seaport, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.

The 4 000-strong AU contingent’s spokesperson said he was confident his forces could hold off the Islamist-led insurgency.

“Their intention is clear, they don’t want peace and violence is their way of life. But they will not succeed, because the solution for peace in Somalia lies in having everybody onboard through dialogue and not through violence,” Major Bahuko Baridgye told AFP.

Residents continued to flee on Thursday, fearing that a fresh insurgent onslaught would be met by a barrage of artillery fire from AU and government forces hunkering down in a last handful of fortified pockets.

“There is no hope for peace in Mogadishu, we see that Islamists are planning attacks against the presidential palace and I saw the African peacekeepers deploying fresh troops and heavy artillery,” said Farah Sahal, a father of two.

“We have only one option and that is to flee from our house before it is too late,” he told AFP as he packed a few modest belongings.—Sapa-AFP

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