Somali resistance fighters have battled the US-backed Ethiopian occupationists for months. New clashes erupted on Wednesday delaying peace talks aimed at bringing about the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Ethiopian-backed government troops and Islamic guerrillas exchanged gunfire in northern Mogadishu early Wednesday, killing at least four people, wounding more than a dozen and ending more than a week of relative calm in this battle-scarred city, witnesses said.
Stray bullets struck a minibus in the capital and killed three passengers, said Sabumo Hassan Elmi, a witness. The Somali Red Crescent Society said four people had been killed and 16 wounded in the city.
Mogadishu's dominant clan, the Hawiye, had brokered a cease-fire about 10 days ago to end the worst fighting here in 15 years. Four days of bloodshed that started in late March and killed at least hundreds of people -- and possibly more than 1,000. In recent days, Somali and Ethiopian troops have been closing streets in Mogadishu and digging trenches, raising fears that a fresh bout of violence could be imminent.
"They are exchanging small gunfire since early this morning," Mogadishu resident Abdullah Ali Hassan said Wednesday.
A Hawiye panel reported this week that the recent fighting killed more than 1,000 civilians and wounded 4,300. The estimate was a dramatic escalation in the death toll from the four days of bloodshed. An earlier estimate by a Somali human rights group said more than 1,000 civilians had been killed or wounded.
The U.N. refugee agency says some 124,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February.
"We call on the international community, especially the Muslim people, to offer urgent assistance to the Somali people who are suffering in Mogadishu," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Hawiye.
The fighting started late last month when Ethiopian troops used tanks and attack helicopters in an offensive to crush insurgents.
The insurgents are linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, which was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, accompanied by U.S. special forces. The U.S. has accused the courts of having ties to al-Qaida.
The militants reject any secular government, and have sworn to fight until Somalia becomes an Islamic emirate.
Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against each other. A national government was established in 2004, but has failed to assert any real control.
Fighting resumes in Mogadishu, killing three
Three people died and five others were wounded in a renewed fighting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu between Hawiye clan fighters and Ethiopian and Somali soldiers on Wednesday, witnesses said.
"Two people got killed and at least three others were wounded when a shell hit a house where they were staying," Ali Omar, a resident of Towfiq neighborhood where the fighting took place, told Xinhua by phone.
The latest fighting started late Tuesday when heavy artillery rounds were exchanged between insurgents and Ethiopian and Somali troops stationed in Villa Somalia, the presidential place, where President Abdullahi Yusuf stays in the seaside city of two million.
"One man was hit by a stray bullet and died of blood loss in our neighborhood this morning. We could not take him to hospital. We were afraid," said Faduma Yare, a shopkeeper at 30th Street in Mogadishu . "Two other people also sustained injuries here".
A shaky ceasefire has been in place for the past week, ending a four-day fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian and Somali government troops. A meeting to discuss moving fighters and soldiers away from their defensive passions in Mogadishu was delayed for the third time on Tuesday. Clan elders said the delay was requested by them so that they could widen the discussions. Ethiopian officials stated nothing about the delays of the meeting.
A previous ceasefire was broken when Ethiopian troops tried to take new positions in the city but was resisted by Hawiye clan fighters who allege the government wants to disarm them while other clans maintain their weapons.
The Somali government accuses remnants of the defeated Islamists of being behind the recent upsurge in violence.
The Somali government, formed in Nairobi in 2004 reconciliation conference, wants to pacify the city in time for the scheduled mid- April national reconciliation conference to be held in the capital.
Somalia peace meeting delayed over security concerns
Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:13AM EDT
MOGADISHU, April 11 (Reuters) - Government forces and clan militia clashed in northern Mogadishu on Wednesday, as continued insecurity in the Somali capital delayed a national reconciliation meeting seen as critical to a viable state.
Residents heard the rattle of small arms in the fighting, which killed at least three combatants and ended more than a week of relative calm after March 29-April 1 battles claimed more than 1,000 lives, according to local investigators.
That fighting subsided after the capital's dominant Hawiye clan brokered a truce with Ethiopian soldiers protecting the Somali interim government. But the sight of Hawiye and Islamist militia digging trenches has fuelled fears of new violence.
"Some of our men have been defending themselves against the government," Hawiye elder Hussein Siyaad told Reuters, adding that Ethiopian forces were not involved in the clashes.
"The ceasefire has not been affected by the skirmishes."
Malun Abdi, a Somali living close to the scene of the fighting, said she saw the bodies of two clansmen.
"They were still holding their AK-47s. They must have been insurgents because they were not wearing government uniform," she said.
Deputy Defence Minister Salad Ali Gele said the government side had also suffered casualties.
"The government have lost one soldier and three other soldiers were wounded," he told Reuters.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the recent battles were the lawless city's worst for more than 15 years.
They were triggered when government and Ethiopian forces began a disarmament drive that grew into an offensive to crush insurgents before a planned April 16 reconciliation meeting.
A senior Arab League official, Samir Hosni, told Reuters that the conference had now been postponed for one month until mid-May because of insecurity.
The interim government, formed in 2004, has struggled to impose its authority over Mogadishu since defeating rival Islamist leaders in a lightning New Year campaign backed by Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and warplanes.
It has faced almost daily attacks by Islamist and Hawiye fighters who oppose Ethiopia's involvement in the Horn of Africa country and accuse the government of favouring President Abdullahi Yusuf's Darod clan.
Diplomats say the government's legitimacy hinges on its ability to include all Somalis at the reconciliation meeting.
Exposing sharp divisions in the administration, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed said it was too late for the government to salvage any credibility and that its mandate had collapsed.
"The credibility of the whole (government) has been compromised ... It has collapsed," he told foreign journalists in Eritrea, neighbouring Ethiopia's arch foe.
Aideed said fresh peace talks should be held outside Somalia, and he blamed the recent bloodshed on Ethiopia.
"The invading Ethiopian troops have destroyed a 10-km sq (area of the city in which) 1,086 civilians have been killed ... A massacre has happened," he said.
An Ethiopian spokesman rejected Aideed's comments as propaganda inspired by Eritrea.
"Ethiopia and (Somalia's government) have taken measures against terrorists engaged in destructive activities designed to derail the peace process in Somalia," said Bereket Simon, special advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Wright in Cairo, Jack Kimball in Asmara and Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa
SOMALIA-YEMEN: More than 15,000 Somali refugees live in squalid conditions
More than 15,000 Somali refugees live in squalid conditions in the al-Basateen area of Aden province
ADEN, 10 April 2007 (IRIN) - Amnah Abdul-Hamid, 26, escaped war in Somalia in search of a better life in Yemen. But since arriving four years ago, her two children have died of diarrhoea and she is now sick and destitute.
“I suffer from brain neuritis [inflammation of a nerve or nerves]. I am in dire need of help as I have no job to provide food and shelter for myself,” said Amnah, a divorcee who lives and depends on a Somali family living in the predominantly Somali al-Basateen area of Aden province.
"I need to work but I am sick, and the war in my country prevents me from returning," she said.
Like Amnah, scores of Somali refugees flock daily to a small room in the centre of al-Basateen area, where Somali community leaders meet. This is their first port of call whenever they have problems.
The refugees have selected seven leaders, including women, who represent their tribes, to head the Somali Community and address their issues.
Established six years ago, the’ Somali Community Leadership’ has no resources. "We manage by ourselves. The rent of the leadership's room is paid by ADRA [an international NGO]," Mohammed Deriah, the overall leader of the Somali Community, said.
I suffer from brain neuritis [inflammation of a nerve or nerves]. I am in dire need of help as I have no job to provide food and shelter for myself.
According to him, 15,540 Somali refugees with identification cards live in al-Basateen area, while many others live there without ID. "Over the past three weeks, we received 2,500 Somali refugees who fled their country to escape the war," he told IRIN.
Most of the houses at al-Basateen are made of tin and mud. Their monthly rent ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 Yemeni riyals a month (about US $16-26).
Ventilation and sanitation are very poor there. The area is neither well planned nor asphalted. Rubbish is thrown outside houses as there are no waste bins.
Dr. Fares Najeeb, head of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) health facility at al-Basateen, said poverty and poor sanitation are the root causes of diseases among the refugees. Najeeb said the common diseases in the area are diarrhoea, chest inflammation and, to some extent, malaria. He estimated the cases of malaria at 80 a month. In addition, at least one tuberculosis case is reported a month, he said.
There are only two health facilities there, one of which deals with children and mothers. The two facilities were set up by CSSW, a local NGO, in 1999. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) assists them, while the Ministry of Health provides free medication and 43 health workers.
During summer, residents face water shortages and electricity outages. "The government reduces the water supply to the area during summer. The same can be said about electricity, at a time when we need such services all the more," said community leader Deriah.
Deriah added that while Somali children were permitted to attend public schools for free, most did not go. “Families can't afford other requirements like notebooks and school uniforms. Very few boys attend school," he said.
Somali refugees at al-Basateen depend mainly on menial jobs-such as washing cars, working in construction sites and cleaning houses - as a source of income.
Somali refugee Habibah Hassan, 35, said she arrived in Yemen seven years ago after armed gangs tied up her husband - a former colonel in the former Somali national army - in Somalia, robbed him of US $20,000, and treaded on her stomach, causing her to miscarry.
Habibah described living conditions in al-Basateen as ‘miserable’. "We came to Yemen with the hope to travel to another country, but as we failed, my husband was in such a mental state that he has since disappeared," she said.
Last month, Erika Feller, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, visited Yemen and described the Somali refugees’ situation as “distressing”. She called for additional resources to improve their conditions.
According to UNHCR, there are about 100,000 refugees in Yemen, most of whom are Somalis.
Yemen is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
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