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Troops Attack Mogadishu's Largest Market
"They took anything their vehicles could carry or tow," Ali Muhammad Siad, the chairman of Bakara market traders, told IRIN.
Ethiopian-backed government forces have been surrounding the market for the past two weeks, according to a local journalist, who requested anonymity.
The government has accused market traders of supporting insurgents and making it a safe haven for them. "We know that is where they hide, plan and execute their attacks," Abdi Haji Gobdon, the government spokesman, had told IRIN in an interview last year.
Siad, however, denied the government's claim, saying no weapons were found and government forces had met no resistance on 19 February. "We have done all we can to work with them but all we got in return is this [looting]," he said.
A number of government officials contacted by IRIN were not available for comment but one who requested anonymity, because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said security forces did loot the market.
"I am afraid it is true, government forces went into the market and went on a looting spree," he said.
The journalist said the forces entered the market early in the morning and looted all the businesses they could access.
"They were not discriminating, from small traders to big warehouses," he said.
Bakara "is where the exchange rate of the dollar is set for the entire country and where wholesalers send their goods to other markets in the city and outside", said the journalist.
The attack occurred a day after insurgents routed government forces in two districts of the city.
"Yesterday [18 February], government forces were forced out of Hawl Wadag and Wardigley [south Mogadishu] district by the insurgents," a local source said.
He said at least 20 people died and 30 more were injured, mostly government forces.
Siad said the looting of Bakara market was an act of revenge on the part of the government. "Bakara is paying for what happened yesterday," he said.
A civil society source condemned the attack, saying: "This is not what you would expect from a government claiming to want to restore law and order. As civil society, we have reached a point where we cannot work with this government. It is outrageous that the forces that were meant to provide security are the ones causing insecurity."
He said many people who depended on the market for their livelihoods were destitute, as the looting and regular closures of the market would affect thousands.
According to civil society sources, at least 6,000 people have reportedly been killed in the fighting in Mogadishu between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents and at least 700,000 displaced.
The UN estimates that about 5,000 war-wounded were admitted to Mogadishu's two main hospitals in 2007.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations