At Least 73 Die as Mo­gadishu Fight­ing In­ten­si­fies

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Sa­hal Abdulle

MO­GADISHU, So­ma­lia, April 21 — Shells pounded Mo­gadishu on Satur­day, killing at least 73 peo­ple and swelling a death toll al­ready in the hun­dreds from bat­tles this week pit­ting mili­tias and Is­lamic fight­ers against So­mali and Ethiopian troops.

The es­ca­lat­ing fight­ing has sent more than 321,000 res­i­dents flee­ing in the big­gest refugee move­ment in So­ma­lia since 1991, when the fall of dic­ta­tor Mohamed Siad Barre ush­ered in 16 years of an­ar­chy.

“I counted 20 dead in the street and the side­walk. Some were miss­ing heads; oth­ers were so mu­ti­lated you couldn’t tell if they were men or women,” Sule­man Mo­hammed, a res­i­dent of Mo­gadishu, said from the Al Barakah mar­ket area, where more than seven mor­tar shells landed.

Res­i­dents and med­i­cal staff re­ported at least 73 deaths from the in­ces­sant shelling and gun­fire across the city Satur­day, adding to an es­ti­mated 131 from the pre­vi­ous three days of vi­o­lence.

The week’s fi­nal death toll is ex­pected to soar and may come close to the es­ti­mated 1,000 ca­su­al­ties from a sim­i­lar four-day flare-up at the end of March. Most of those killed have been civil­ians.

An Is­lamic move­ment ruled most of south­ern So­ma­lia for the sec­ond half of 2006, be­fore be­ing de­feated in a brief war at the turn of the year. But its fight­ers, backed by dis­grun­tled mem­bers of the Hawiye clan, have re­grouped to rise up against Pres­i­dent Ab­dul­lahi Yusuf’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and his Ethiopian back­ers.

“There are a lot of deaths. I am car­ry­ing the bod­ies of two fam­ily mem­bers into my car now,” said one dis­traught res­i­dent, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

An­other res­i­dent, Abdi Mo­hammed, said: “Six shells hit our neigh­bor­hood. One hit our neigh­bor’s house, killing five of the six fam­ily mem­bers who live there. My 7-year-old son and his friend were wounded.”

The United Na­tions and aid agen­cies say the refugee ex­o­dus is cre­at­ing a loom­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe, with dis­ease al­ready spread­ing. Many refugees are liv­ing un­der trees and be­side roads, short of food, wa­ter and ba­sic ameni­ties.

Inside the city, res­i­dents de­scribed a ter­ri­fy­ing night of near-con­stant shelling mixed with thun­der from a storm.

Mor­tar rounds, ap­par­ently fired from Ethiopian po­si­tions, hit the of­fices of the private broad­caster HornAfrik on Satur­day morn­ing, wound­ing sev­eral jour­nal­ists inside, wit­nesses said.

“We are in a state of shock. I see no end to this,” said Ali Haji, 50, a res­i­dent who took his fam­ily out of Mo­gadishu last month but came back to pro­tect his house and be­long­ings.

“I’ve had enough,” he said. “I’m aban­don­ing the house. I am caught be­tween two groups — Ethiopi­ans try­ing to kill me be­cause I am So­mali, and in­sur­gents not happy be­cause I am not pick­ing up a gun and fight­ing with them. I have lost all hope.”

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