Islamist rebels and Somalia’s western-backed government and allies exchanged mortar and small arms fire yesterday in a seventh day of clashes in the capital Mogadishu that have killed 139 civilians.
Years of conflict in Somalia have killed tens of thousands, displaced millions more, defied 15 attempts to establish central rule and created one of the world’s worst aid crises, Reuters adds.
“Twenty-six civilians died and 98 were injured on Wednesday and Thursday,” said Yasin Ali Gedi, vice chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace and Human Rights group.
“Thousands have also evacuated in this period, because fighting has spread to new districts,” he said.
The militant al Shabaab and forces loyal to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed continued to battle in Mogadishu. Pockmarked buildings near the presidential palace shook from the latest bout of clashes, which have plagued the country since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
Residents accused African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) of shelling insurgent strongholds. Like most guerrilla wars, rebels stage hit-and-run attacks and hide amongst the populace.
“I saw them transporting 10 dead bodies and dozens of injured in mini-buses,” resident Abdi Hussein said.
“They were all opposition, because they were masked. Government soldiers also died, but I could count only three. I’m sure there are more. We were running from the shelling of AMISOM,” he said.
AU spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku said: “We are neither involved in fighting nor shelling … The opposition blames shelling on us as an excuse to attack our bases.”
Influential opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys accused U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah of trying to destroy Somalia by his support for the transitional government and dismissed any talks with Ahmed’s administration
“It is a surprise to see Ould-Abdallah destroying Somalia when he, as a Muslim, has an obligation of being honest of what he has to do for Somalis,” Aweys told Reuters.
“The troops who came to keep Muslim leaders away from the leadership have to leave the country. (Then) we are granting every Somali that there will be no fighting. We will sit together and solve everything through dialogue,” he said.
Aid organisations warned on Thursday that Somalia’s worst fighting in months was aggravating an already dire humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa nation .
Once famed for its open cafes and safe streets where residents took nightly strolls — known as “passagiato” from the former colonial rulers, Italy — Mogadishu is now synonymous with anarchy and evokes images of militias atop battle wagons.
A respite from more than a decade of violence following a takeover by the Islamic Courts Union in 2006 was short-lived, and battles erupted again when Ethiopian tanks and troops crushed the sharia courts movement later that year.
An Islamist-led insurgency since early 2007 has killed some 17 700 people and wounded almost 30 000 others, Elman says.