United Nations warned of a humanitarian catastrophe with corpses left rotting in the streets.

April 21st, 2007 Print Print Email Email

MOGADISHU, April 20, 2007 (AFP) Ethiopian forces battled Islamist insurgents in the Somalia capital on Friday as the United Nations warned of a humanitarian catastrophe with corpses left rotting in the streets.Residents said the non-stop shelling that erupted at mid-day (0900 GMT) was the longest in three days of fighting that broke out on Tuesday, but abated briefly on Wednesday.

At least six civilians were killed and several wounded in the battles bringing this week’s death toll to 43.

“A mortar shell landed in a house in Sanaa junction, killing four people and wounded three others, including the father of the family,” said Abdulkadir Ali, a resident in northern Mogadishu.

Two other people, including an elderly woman, were killed by stray bullets, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

Earlier, Hawiye clan elders said 30 civilians were killed and and 200 wounded in three days of fighting that erupted Tuesday, with a lull the following day, but which was shattered Thursday.

“I can tell you that more than 30 people have been killed in two days of fighting. The number of wounded people is about 200,” said Hussein Said Korgab, the spokesman for the Hawiye clan.

Seven civilians were killed Tuesday.

The worsening situation in Mogadishu has led UN humanitarian officials to warn of a looming disaster.

The UN refugee agency said more than 321,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February 1 when the fighting first began.

“Unless something is done, the humanitarian crisis is going to turn into a catastrophe very soon,” Eric Laroche, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Somalia, told journalists Thursday.

The UN said Somali government forces were blocking relief supplies and that UN aircraft were being shot at.

In Mogadishu, bodies were left lying in the streets, while a cholera or diarrhoea epidemic was taking hold and new flooding was likely soon, it added.

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More Ethiopian troops moved into Mogadishu to reinforce their colleagues a day after a suspected suicide bomber attacked their base south of the capital.

Tensions in Somalia have risen again since Ethiopian forces helped the UN-backed transitional government to oust Islamists from Mogadishu in January.

The Islamists have vowed to wage a prolonged guerrilla war against the Ethiopians and the capital is in the grips of fierce fighting, touching off an exodus of civilians.

Four days of fighting late last month saw the worst violence in Mogadishu for 15 years and efforts to agree a lasting ceasefire have been dogged by clashes.

The Hawiye clan elders have accused the Ethiopians of refusing to withdraw from the frontline, attacking the insurgents and shattering a fragile ceasefire.

But an official close to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s office told AFP the two sides were “still in secret, intermittent talks.”

Elders have said at least 1,000 people have died and more than 4,000 have been wounded in the fighting.

In Addis Ababa, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed said the goverment was determined to wipe out the insurgents blamed for insecurity in the seaside capital, home to about a million people.

“And unless we do action, Mogadishu will never be safe for anyone — the public or the government — and that is why we are fighting,” Yusuf told reporters.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 touched off a power struggle that exploded into inter-clan warfare.

Meanwhile, the African Union envoy to Somalia Mohamed Foum held talks with Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi in Mogadishu on the deployment of more AU peacekeepers in the lawless country.

Some 1,500 AU peacekeepers from Uganda deployed in the lawless capital early March have failed to stem the surge in violence. They have instead taken positions in the main airport, sea port, presidential palace and a key access road to the airport.

The Ugandans are an advance contingent of about 8,000 peacekeepers the pan-African body plans to deploy in Somalia to help President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed maintain control of the country.

The UN’s humanitarian office said it would meet with Somali government leaders on Monday about the deteriorating situation.

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