Hundreds of Somalis flee heavy clashes

Heavy fighting erupted on Tuesday in a previously quiet part of the Somali capital sending hundreds of residents, some of them already displaced from elsewhere, fleeing, officials and witnesses said.

Clashes broke out in Dharkinley in southwest Mogadishu at about 10am when Somali loyalist forces attacked checkpoints manned by hardline Islamists.

“Fighting is going on in several locations in the capital and the heaviest broke out this morning in Dharkinley district, our forces are gaining ground in the battle,” colonel Mohamed Hashi, one of the Somali police commanders, told Agence France-Presse.

The interim Somali government launched a counter-offensive on May 22 to try to regain control of swathes of the capital captured earlier by the rebels.

Terrified residents on Tuesday started flooding out of Dharkinley, one of the most poverty-stricken districts of the capital.

“Many people are fleeing the battle zones to avoid the crossfire,” added Hashi.

“There has been military movement in our neighbourhood in the past days, but this morning heavy clashes erupted near Abagedo area, everybody is fleeing for their lives because they [the Islamists] are using heavy machine guns and mortar shells,” a resident, Mohamed Ibrahim, said.

Dharkinley has been one of the rare calm districts of Mogadishu in recent years in Somalia’s protracted cycle of violence and has sheltered many displaced from other hotbeds.

“This district has been calm in the past years and hosted many people who also fled other neighborhoods, but now the time has come for us to flee too,” another resident, Abdi Nure, said.

There have been no reports on casualties yet.

Mogadishu has been engulfed since May 7 by fierce fighting between the two sides, killing more than 200 people and forcing more than 62 000 others out of their homes.

The rebel onslaught is led by the al-Shabaab, an extremist faction accused of links to al-Qaeda; and Hezb al-Islam, a more political radical group loyal to opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

The groups want to topple President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist who came to power in January under a United Nations-backed deal.—Sapa-AFP