208 killed in two weeks of Mogadishu fighting..

Halkaan ka akhri

MOGADISHU — More than two weeks of fighting between pro-government forces and insurgents in the Somali capital have left at least 208 people dead and 700 wounded, a government minister said.

“We have conducted a count and 208 people have been killed so far while more than 700 have been wounded,” Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Mohamoud Ibrahim Garweyne told a press conference in Mogadishu late Sunday.

The latest round of bloodletting in the Somali capital kicked off on May 7 when hardline Islamist groups launched a fresh offensive aimed at removing internationally-backed President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Sharif and a handful of ministers have been holed up in the presidential compound for days, with little firepower of their own to repel the insurgents and African Union (AU) peacekeepers holding the fort.

“I can tell you that 80 percent of the people killed and injured are civilians who were caught in the crossfire,” Garweyne said.

With the two main insurgent groups — the Shebab and Hezb al-Islamiya — resorting to street guerrilla tactics and AU peacekeepers firing artillery from their fortified positions, civilians have borne the brunt of the violence.

“The clashes have also displaced 8,367 families, who have reached temporary camps outside the capital where their livelihoods are very precarious,” the minister said.

Over the weekend, the United Nations put the number of people displaced by the latest fighting at 57,000.

The Shebab, the former youth wing of an Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopia-backed Somali government forces in 2007, also claimed Sunday’s car bomb at a military camp in the violence-wracked city.

“The attack was carried out by one of our young fighters who detonated his car inside the camp where the enemy of Allah are stationed,” Sheikh Hussein Fidow, one of the group’s officials, told reporters.

In February, they also claimed the single deadliest suicide attack on a base hosting the Burundi contingent of the AU forces.

The two groups are battling to overthrow Sharif who came to power in January following UN-sponsored reconciliation talks in neighbouring Djibouti.

They have rejected peace overtures by the government and even spurned the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) which has been one of their key demands.

Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia in January, but their pullout caused concerns of a security vacuum and fears that Somalia risked becoming a haven for jihadists affiliated to Al-Qaeda.

Eritrea has been singled out as one African country backing the Somali radicals.

The AU wants UN sanctions on Eritrea, as well as an aerial exclusion zone in Somalia and the blockade of ports and airports to prevent the entry of foreign fighters and weapons shipments.

But Asmara rejected the call, blaming an east African regional grouping, whose sanction call last week was endorsed by the AU, for the chaos in Somalia.

The seaside capital has been ravaged by 18 years of almost uninterrupted civil conflict and hundreds of thousands of people had already fled following Ethiopia’s invasion in late 2006.

Source: AFP

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