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SOMALIA: Uneasy calm as Mogadishu guns fall silent

NAIROBI, 2 April 2007 (IRIN) - Shukri Ali last ventured outside her apartment in the central area of the Somali capital of Mogadishu four days ago.

"I have seen some of my neighbours today [Monday] for the first time," Ali said. "For the first time since Thursday, I don't hear the sound of gunfire this morning," she added.

Ali is one Mogadishu's residents who have braved days of fighting between Ethiopian and Somali government troops on one hand, and insurgents loyal to the ousted Union of Islamic Courts, on the other.

The vicious fighting left hundreds dead. Thousands of others fled on donkeys, on foot or by car. Those who chose to stay in the city ran out of supplies.

"No one was able to go out and buy food or anything else in the last four days," a civil society source in the city said, adding that residents will now find that the cost of basic goods has risen dramatically.

According to residents, prices for basic foods such as rice, sugar and cooking oil, have increased, sometimes by 50 percent, due to shortages. "No new stocks have come into the markets in over two weeks," said a local businessman. Most businesses, he added, were rationing what they had.

The guns fell silent following a ceasefire agreed between clan elders and the Ethiopians. But residents, while hopeful that the truce may hold, on Monday were faced with the immediate task of burying their dead.

"We are trying to bury the dead, but we are waiting to see how the day develops," said the civil society source. Given the high temperatures in the city, he added, some bodies had already begun to decompose, posing a potentially serious health hazard.

"[The] removal of bodies has started in some parts of the city," the source said on Monday morning. "There are areas where it is possible to do that and we are doing that, but not as much as we would like."

Medical sources said the death toll in the four days of fighting could rise well above one hundred. At least 100 people died in the two main hospitals of Medina and Keysaney; others died elsewhere in the city.

"These numbers do not include those who died on the frontlines from both sides," he added. The city’s hospitals also treated 697 injured people over the four days of intense fighting - including those who were able to make their way into the health facilities only after the fighting died down.

Other eyewitnesses said rotting bodies were still lying on the streets - including both fighters and civilians. "Due to the ferocity of the fighting neither side was able to collect all of their dead," one source said.

Security still fragile

While the guns fell silent on Monday, residents said they were still scared that snipers who were still active could resume shooting. Tension remained high because rival forces were still fighting each other in some parts of the city.

"There was however slight hope as discussions between Hawiye clan elders and Ethiopian officials were going on," said Ahmed Abdisalam, managing partner of HornAfrik Radio and Television, and a mediator of the talks.

The Hawiye, he added, were expected to name a committee to discuss how to return the city to normality and strengthen the ceasefire. The clans is the dominant in Mogadishu and views the current government as one dominated by the rival Darod clan. They are opposed to being disarmed by what they see as a clan militia.

The fighting in Mogadishu over the last few months has badly ravaged a city that had already been virtually destroyed by 15 years of war. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost 100,000 people have fled the city since February.

Of these 47,000 have fled since 21 March alone, and have no access to shelter, water or food. The vast majority went to Lower Shabelle, mostly Merka and Qoryooley.

Nearly 1,000 have gone to Baidoa, and hundreds more are dispersed between Kismayo, Hargeisa, Beletweyne and Balad. Another estimated 2,500 people arrived in Galkayo (north and south) during the month of March.

Most of the displaced were women and children; some of whom suffered harassment and rape during their journeys. They reported that it was difficult for men to make the journey as it required crossing clan lines which could expose them to revenge killings.

Alarmed about the deteriorating situation, OCHA warned on Monday that lack of access to the city and its surroundings due to the fighting had severely hampered humanitarian efforts to help those in need.

Shukri, like many Mogadishu residents who emerged from hiding on Monday, remained skeptical - unsure if the worst was over. "I am not planning to go too far until we are sure the calm will hold," she said.

Meanwhile, some 1,600 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda, who were deployed in March to try and stabilise the city, mourned the loss of their first victim to the fighting. The soldier died in an attack on the presidential palace on Saturday.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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