Thousands flee Somalia mayhem
TENS of thousands of people have fled Mogadishu amid the heaviest fighting seen in the Somali capital in 15 years of anarchy.
Families used a brief lull in the violence yesterday to pack their bags or bury relatives killed in four days of fierce street battles.
People used whatever transport they could find, travelling by donkey, car or cattle truck to escape the bloodshed, which human rights observers said had claimed the lives of 381 people with a further 565 wounded.
Ethiopian helicopters and tanks have been deployed against the insurgents, who comprise elements of the ousted Islamic Courts movement.
Yesterday, a Somali government minister warned families to leave their homes so forces could continue their offensive against "al-Qaeda elements" ahead of a reconciliation conference due to be held in two weeks time.
The UN refugee agency says 47,000 people, mainly women and children, have fled in the past ten days. Almost 100,000 have left since February.
Abdullahi Ali Hassan, director of the Centre for Development and Education, a Somali non-governmental organisation, said markets had closed, leaving families who had decided to tough it out without access to food or water.
"There are no safe places left in Mogadishu," he said. "People don't know where to go. Many are trying to find whatever shelter they can in the open because they have lost their homes."
On Friday, insurgents downed an Ethiopian helicopter gunship - a vivid reminder of Mogadishu's darkest days when militias shot down two American Black Hawks in 1993. Dead Ethiopian soldiers have also been dragged through the streets.
Somalia has been beset by violence since the overthrow of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Clan-linked warlords carved the country into personal fiefdoms, making it all but impossible for any authority to take control.
That changed last year when militias linked to a network of Islamic Courts seized control of Mogadishu and a swath of southern and central Somalia. But they were ousted at the end of December by a whirlwind Ethiopian assault in support of an internationally recognised, but weak, government.
Michael Ranneberger, the US ambassador to Kenya, described the situation in Mogadishu as an "insecurity soup", with three elements to blame for the surge in violence: bandits, militias linked to warlords and the rump of the defeated Islamic Courts who are receiving support from al-Qaeda.
However, Mohamed Guyo, of the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi, said a more widespread insurgency was growing along clan lines. "The Islamic Courts war machine is still intact, so the question is who else will be attracted to the conflict? Even now it is being driven by clan factors," he said.
He added that Mogadishu's population, drawn from the Hawiye clan, feared being sidelined by a president from the Darod clan, a long-standing enemy. "If things are quiet today then it is really the lull before the storm," said Mr Guyo.
CLAN SYSTEM AT CORE OF VIOLENCE
CLAN loyalty is a crucial factor in Somalia with the main struggle pitting the powerful Hawiye against all-comers.
The Hawiye and their 40-odd sub-clans are Mogadishu's dominant grouping. Along with the Darod, Rahanweyn and Dir they are one of the four main ethnic groups that make up the Somali population.
Many in Mogadishu watched in disgust as president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, of the Darod clan, marched triumphantly into their city when the Union of Islamic Courts was ousted in December.
The Hawiye remember only too well how the last Darod president, Siad Barre, plundered their city until he was forced out by Mogadishu's militias in 1991.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West