|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
At Least 135 Killed Since Sunday In Battle For Mogadishu
Most of the dead have been civilians caught in the crossfire, medical officials said. More than 280 people have been wounded in the fighting that Mogadishu residents have called the worst in more than a decade of lawlessness.
An Associated Press reporter saw fighters from both sides closing on each other following a night of artillery exchanges that sent thousands of civilians fleeing the Sii-Sii neighborhood of northern Mogadishu. Heavily armed men arrived in pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns.
Tending to his wife in the hospital, Mohamud Jama said his three children were killed when three mortar rounds struck his house.
"This is the first time we have witnessed people fighting in Somalia and targeting civilians in such a savage way," Jama said.
Militia loyal to the Islamic Court Union, a grouping of radical Islamic leaders banded together in a self-appointed court system, have been fighting since Sunday to capture a strategic road through northern Mogadishu from the secular Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism. While the alliance has held the road through Sii-Sii, the court union has controlled the neighborhoods on either side.
The alliance accuses the union of having ties to al-Qaida, while the Islamists say the warlords are puppets of the United States. The courts are popular in Mogadishu because in recent years they have provided the only form of governance in the city.
Both sides have been squaring off for a major battle for control of the city in recent weeks. Islamic radicals have built up their forces as part of a campaign to install an Islamic government in Somalia, something opposed by warlords who divided the country into clan-based fiefdoms following the overthrow of longtime dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991.
Somalia has had no effective central government since then, although a U.N.-backed transitional government has been set up in Baidoa, 150 miles west of Mogadishu. Some of the warlords behind the secular alliance are members of the transitional parliament, though they are fighting the Islamists on their own.
The latest clashes may only be the beginning. Other clan militias with loose loyalties to both sides have not joined in the fighting but continue to man defenses in the neighborhoods they control. Tensions are rising.
Thousands of families have fled the capital as attempts by clan elders and other mediators to negotiate a cease-fire has failed.
"The fighting continues killing our brothers and sisters in front of us, so we decided to leave the city rather than watching them in a pool of blood," said Khasim Siidow, a father of eight children, who was on minibus to Wanlaweyn, 55 miles southwest of Mogadishu.
Medical officials said 34 people have died and more than 250 have been wounded in the fighting since nightfall Wednesday.
Twelve shells missed their target overnight, landing on civilian homes far from the fighting, witnesses said.
Islamic Court Union chairman Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed has promised every night to observe a cease-fire, but none has taken hold. Nuur Daqle, one of the secular alliance's commanders, said he was ready to observe a cease-fire but the Islamists continue shooting at his men.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was extremely concerned about "the consequences in humanitarian terms of the intense armed clashes currently under way in Mogadishu."
Transitional President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he believes Washington is supporting the militia as a way of fighting several senior al-Qaida operatives that are being protected by radical clerics. The U.S. has said only that it had met with a wide variety of Somali leaders in an effort to fight international terrorists in the country.
At the United Nations Wednesday, the Security Council urged all nations to adhere to an existing arms embargo in Somalia. But the council ignored recommendations from one of its own committees that travel bans and asset freezes be imposed against some Somali warlords.
Source: Associated Press