SOMALIA: Thousands more leave capital as troops converge

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fears of a major military offensive have sparked a further civilian exodus from the Somali capital Mogadishu, local sources told IRIN on 5 November.

"Thousands of people are leaving the city as we speak," said Mohamed Hassan Haad, the chairman of the Hawiye [the predominant clan] elders' council. "They are worried that the arrival of thousands of Ethiopian troops will lead to a major attack on the city."

Haad appealed to the international community to intervene before new atrocities could be committed. "Now is the time to speak up, not after the deed is done," he said.

A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said: "They [Ethiopian troops] have been coming in large convoys since 28 October. I think it is in reaction to the escalation of the insurgent activity in the city."

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that at least 90,000 people have been displaced by recent fighting between insurgents and allied Ethiopian and government troops.

The violence mostly affected the four districts of Hodan, Hawl-Wadag and Wardhigley (south Mogadishu) and Heliwa (north Mogadishu).

According to the journalist, Mogadishu was waiting for "the start of a new offensive" by the Ethiopian and government forces.

"There is no doubt that they are bringing this new force for a major operation," he said. "It is just a matter of time."

Haad warned that any new military operation would only “add to the suffering of the population” and displace those people left in Mogadishu.

"No amount of military force will resolve the Somali problem," said Haad. “The government needs to adopt a new approach.”

The local journalist said that skirmishes had continued since the latest wave of fighting began on 27 October. These included attacks on two Ethiopian military bases and a number of government police posts on 4 November, he said.

A medical source told IRIN that more than 100 people had been killed in the recent violence and another 200 taken to hospital with serious injuries.

"These are the ones who made it into Madina, [south] Keysaney [north] and Dayniile [northwest] hospitals in the city," he said. “Many people died in their homes and were buried, while others were taken care of by relatives or in private clinics."

Haad said the elders’ committee had been gathering information on those killed in the city since August. "We now have the names of 1085 people killed in Heliwa district [an insurgents’ stronghold in north Mogadishu] alone," he said. “A list for the whole city should be available by the end of this week.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – Somalia, about 450,000 people have been displaced by fighting this year, bringing the total number of displaced persons in Somalia to more than 850,000 including about 400,000 displaced since the civil war began in the 1990s.

Source: IRIN