Somalia: Mogadishu explodes —again

Shelling and gunfire are rocking Mogadishu as Islamists and Hawiye clan insurgents battle government and Ethiopian troops for control of the Somali capital. The UN says 321,000 people—nearly a third of the city’s population—have fled since February, in the country’s worst refugee crisis since 1991. Since April 18, violence has killed 113 people and wounded another 222, the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization said. “We call on both sides to cease the war immediately without any pre-condition,” Elman chairman Sudan Ali Ahmed told Reuters.

Soldiers blocked off roads to military bases after a suicide attacker blew himself up at a former prison now used by the Ethiopian military April 19. Several dozen, mainly civilians, were killed in the blast, and other fighting across the city that day—including a rocket attack on a market-place.

A group calling itself the Young Mujahideen Movement in Somalia claimed responsibility for the suicide blast. It said it used chemicals in the “martyrdom operation,” though it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the Internet statement.

Mogadishu residents say the latest violence is as bad as four days of battles that killed 1,000 at the end of March. Hundreds of Somalis are fleeing by foot, donkey, cart and vehicle, Reuters witnesses said.

Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf tries to seem optimistic. “I would say the problem of Somalia is slowly but surely ending,” he said in Ethiopia where he was holding talks with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The United Nations estimates there are 3,000 anti-government combatants, including foreign fighters, in Somalia. The Security Council wil consider sending peacekeepers next month. (Reuters, April 20)

See our last post on Somalia and the struggle for the Horn of Africa.