SOMALIA: Weekend clashes claim dozens of lives

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Hundreds of families fled their homes in Mogadishu over the weekend as intense fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents raged on, claiming the lives of up to 100 people, local sources told IRIN.

Another 200 people were reportedly wounded in the clashes, which started on 19 April, hospital sources said.

"What we have seen on Saturday and Sunday was the worst fighting ever,” said Asha Shaur, a civil society spokeswoman. “It was the most intense and destructive the city has experienced.”

The fighting was mostly concentrated in the districts of Wardhigley in the south, Heliwa, Wahara Ade and Yaqshid (both in north Mogadishu), according to a local journalist.

It started when Ethiopian troops moved from their base at a former pasta factory in Yaqshid and tried to enter areas not previously under their control, said the journalist.

“That is when the insurgents and the Ethiopians clashed, and it has continued for two days non-stop,” he said.

The escalation in the fighting comes as the worst drought in more than a decade grips most of the country. Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-Somalia, said 2.5 million Somalis were in urgent need of assistance. "If things do not improve within the coming weeks, and it is not likely, then we will be confronted with the images of 1991-1992", when drought and civil strife claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis, leading to the deployment of American troops in Operation Restore Hope.

He added: "We are talking about saving lives not alleviating suffering."

Civilians trapped

Shaur appealed to both sides of the conflict to spare the civilian population. “The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons in populated areas has one aim only - to kill as many people as possible, whether armed or unarmed,” she said.

Many of the newly displaced were “more often than not” people who had returned from camps ahead of the expected rainy season. “They wanted to shelter in their homes before the rains. Now some of them are dead and others are injured,” said Shaur, who was speaking from Dayniile hospital, where some of the injured were taken.

Medical sources told IRIN that hospitals had been overwhelmed by the number of injured people seeking treatment since fighting started on 19 April.

A medical source said that more than 100 people had been killed and another 200 taken to hospital with serious injuries.

"These are the ones who made it into Madina [in the south], Keysaney [in the north] and Dayniile [northwest] hospitals in the city," he said.

But these numbers reflected only those who made it to hospitals. “We are getting reports of the injured who are trapped in their neighbourhoods, with dead bodies lying in the streets,” he said.

He said most of those brought to hospitals were women and children. "In Madina hospital an eight-month-old baby died of shrapnel wounds," he added.

The journalist told IRIN that it was still very dangerous to venture out in the conflict areas. “Many people are looking at the bodies of their relatives or friends but cannot bury them.

“The real number of dead and injured may not be known for days,” he added. The fighting is reported to have subsided on 21 April, but the city remains tense, according to the journalist.

Government officials were not available for comment.

Source: IRIN