51 killed as Somalia fighting rages
* Hundreds of terrified civilians flee Mogadishu
* Eritrea pulls out of east African peacemaking bloc
MOGADISHU: At least 51 people were killed on Sunday as clashes between Ethiopian forces and Islamist insurgents raged in the Somali capital, bringing the toll to more than 219 after five days of fighting.
Scores of rotting corpses lay abandoned in the streets as the rival forces exchanged artillery and machinegun fire, demolishing buildings in northern and southern Mogadishu. Hundreds of terrified civilians were streaming out of the city, adding to scores of thousands who have been forced from their homes in recent weeks amid some of the worst violence in the battle-scarred port city for 15 years.
The latest deaths brought the death toll from the past five days to 219, said Sudan Ali Ahmed, head of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation that tracks casualty figures. Sixty-two injured civilians were taken to hospital.
“As of today, we gave collected the bodies of 42 civilians and nine of the opposition (insurgents),” Ahmed said.
Witnesses said the toll could be much higher as wounded and dead people lay in areas too dangerous to reach, while hospitals were being overwhelmed with casualties.
“Bodies are lying rotting in areas we cannot access. We are appealing to both sides to stop the fighting. This is unacceptable, the civilians are bearing the brunt,” said Ahmed.
Residents said both sides were firing without regard for the consequences to civilians. “We can see Ethiopian tanks firing ... towards civilian areas. They are firing indiscriminately and the mortars are landing everywhere,” said Abdulkarim Ali, a resident of southern Mogadishu’s Gupta area.
“The fighting is going on heavily in this area. Both sides are using machineguns and anti-aircraft guns and many people are trapped in their houses,” said Mukhtar Mohamed, a resident of Fagah in northern Mogadishu.
“May Allah save us because He is the only one who knows when this fighting will end,” he said, adding that casualties were “apparently increasing in this neighbourhood and people are fleeing”.
The UN says at least 321,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February. Many are camped under trees and makeshift hovels in the city’s outskirts, without supplies and where disease outbreaks have been reported.
Prospects for a ceasefire were shattered last week after the Ethiopian forces refused to meet elders from Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan until commanders of the insurgency attended.
Ethiopian-backed Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi vowed to crack down on insurgents, some of whom are allegedly linked to the Al Qaeda terror network of Osama Bin Laden.
Ethiopian troops helped Somalia’s UN-backed transitional government to oust Islamists from Mogadishu in January. But since then fighting has steadily grown worse as insurgents and clan warlords have waged a guerrilla war. Some 1,500 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda, deployed in the seaside capital since early March, have been unable to stem the escalating violence.
The Ugandans are an advance contingent of about 8,000 peacekeepers who the AU plans to deploy in Somalia. But in a blow to African unity in the face of Somalia’s crisis, Ethiopia’s archrival, Eritrea, announced its withdrawal from the east African peacemaking bloc known as the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development. afp