Thu, May 11, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Somalis flee violence in Mogadishu

POWER STRUGGLE Up to 84 people have been killed as militias and warlords -- who some say have been funded by the US -- battle for control of the capital

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Fierce fighting between Islamist militias and warlords in Mogadishu has left up to 84 people dead since Sunday.

Mortars and machine gun fire rocked the densely populated "CC" neighborhood of the Somali capital for the third day running on Tuesday, in the latest round of clashes for control of the city.

Women and children are among the dead, and residents are still fleeing the area.

"Though the actual fighting is taking place about a kilometer and half away, the stray bullets and shells threaten us," a resident, Abdulkadir Khalif, said by e-mail. "It is like living in hell."

Somalia, which has been without a functioning government for 15 years, is largely controlled by warlords and is prone to outbreaks of violence. But recent fighting in northern Mogadishu, a city awash with weapons, is the worst in years.

In February and March about 100 people were killed in battles for the main airfield and port, and tension has remained high. Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government, based in Baidoa, west of the capital, has no army and a tiny police force that is powerless to halt the fighting.

Both of the sparring militia groups, whose fighters roam the city in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns, are opposed to a central authority that would threaten their lucrative business interests.

The Islamist militia are linked to the city's Shariah courts, which were launched to dispense clan justice and succeeded in bringing order to parts of the city. Lately the courts have acquired a political dimension. They are funded by powerful businessmen, and have been accused of harboring al-Qaeda-trained militants.

Pitted against them is the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Democracy, a coalition of warlords -- including some government ministers -- who claim to be fighting terrorism, but are more intent on seizing control of the city for personal gain.

Many Somalis, including Yusuf, believe that the coalition has received funding from the US, which is concerned that Somalia may become a terrorist haven. The US government has refused to comment on the allegations.

With clashes spreading to other parts of the city yesterday, there were few signs of an imminent ceasefire.

"Both sides are preparing to fight again so we are expecting many more casualties," said a spokesman for a humanitarian organization in Mogadishu, who asked not to be named.

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