Fight Continues, 100 dead in Somalia

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, is witnessing a heavy fighting over the past four days. Almost 100 people have died and 200 have been wounded in the clashes, as health officials said yesterday. The battle between the Islamic Court Union and the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism has centered on the northern neighborhood of Sii-Sii. Many of the casualties are civilians caught in the crossfire. There was a temporary truce, but that did not last long.

Islamic militia leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed called a unilateral truce on Tuesday in response to appeals from those affected by the violence. But his opponents said the truce was called because of a lack of ammunition. The warlords' alliance spokesman Hussein Gutale Rageh said they would only accept the ceasefire if their rivals withdrew from territory they have occupied during the fighting.

The fighting started late on Sunday, when an alliance of warlords attacked the vehicle of a group allied to the Islamic courts, according to eyewitnesses.

This is the second round of the city's most serious fighting in a decade. In March 2006, clashes between the two sides killed at least 90 people.

The United Nations has appealed to both sides to halt the clashes. UN special representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, appealed today for the rival militias to end the hostilities, saying they had created fear and chaos for civilians caught in the crossfire.

"The indiscriminate use of heavy machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and artillery in and between urban areas is unacceptable," said Francois Fall.

Somalia has not had an effective national authority for 15 years after the ousting of longtime dictator President Siad Barre in 1991. A UN-backed transitional government has based itself in the central city of Baidoa, but has so far failed to assert itself elsewhere.

Islamic fundamentalists have portrayed themselves as an alternative capable of bringing order and peace, but they have not hesitated to use force and have allegedly linked up with al-Qaeda terrorists. The Islamic courts have restored order to some parts of the city by providing justice under Sharia - Islamic law. The courts say the warlords alliance is a pawn of the United States.

Last week, Somalia President Abdullahi Yusuf accused the US of funding the coalition of warlords. The US government says it does support efforts to restore stability to Somalia but refuses to give details on who it backs and how. The alliance of warlords recently created the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. It has an anti-terror task force based in nearby Djibouti. It accuses the Islamic courts of sheltering foreign al-Qaeda leaders.