Thousands flee Mogadishu as death toll hits 113


Thousands of residents are fleeing bomb-blasted parts of northern Mogadishu and a local rights group says the Somali capital’s heaviest fighting for months has killed 113 civilians.

The Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation said battles between hardline Islamist rebels from the al Shabaab group and pro-government forces had also wounded 330 people in the failed Horn of Africa state since the end of last week.

It said at least 27,000 civilians had fled the city by this morning.

The bloodshed has caused splits in both heavily armed sides: there was a deadly clash on Monday between police and soldiers, then a rift broke out in the opposition after a veteran warlord stoked rivalries between two insurgent factions.

Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad, also known as “Inda’ade” or “white eyes”, handed control of his hundreds of fighters and 19 battle wagons — pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons — to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, another senior opposition leader.

That angered Shabaab leaders, who are also fighting the country’s fragile new government. Washington accuses both Aweys and the Shabaab group of having links to al Qaeda.

“Shabaab wants to behead Sheikh Yusuf,” said a relative of Inda’ade, Aden Hussein. “They ordered Sheikh Hassan to give up him and his weapons, but Aweys said he prefers to fight Shabaab.”

One of Aweys’ bodyguards told Reuters tensions were high.

“Shabaab and Sheikh Hassan are deadlocked. I can’t talk much … the situation is serious,” he said, declining to be named.

The influential Aweys is a member of Hizbul Islam, an umbrella group of opposition organisations that includes his Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

Tuesday’s split came a day after six government troops were killed by police who said they clashed after catching the soldiers smuggling weapons to the insurgents.

On Monday, new Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed accused the rebels of working for unnamed foreign governments he said were determined to undermine his administration.

Somalia has been in chaos since 1991 when warlords toppled strongman Mohamed Siad Barre before turning on each other.

More than 16 000 civilians have been killed by fighting since the start of 2007, more than 1 million have been driven from their homes and about 3 million survive on food aid.