Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Deaths mount as fighting rages in Mogadishu


Somalia chaos- Video

Bombs, shelling rock Somali capital

By SALAD DUHUL, Associated Press Writer 43 minutes ago

Car bombs exploded in Somalia's capital Tuesday and fighting raged for a seventh straight day, with Ethiopian and Somali government troops making a final push to wipe out an insurgency ahead of a peace conference.

Several large shipments of food for the tens of thousands of people who have fled Mogadishu have been turned back because there was no clearance from the Somali government, aid workers and diplomats said. The government has demanded to inspect all aid deliveries despite the worst humanitarian crisis in the country's recent history.

Islamic insurgents clashed with Ethiopian troops backing Somali government forces, using mortars and rocket-propelled grenades against tanks and artillery positions in the north of the battle-scarred coastal city.

A car bomb exploded outside the Ambassador Hotel, which is used by government lawmakers, said Somali presidential spokesman Hussein Mohamoud Hussein. Seven people were killed, said eyewitness Abdu-Kadir Mohamud.

A suspected suicide car bombing injured three civilians outside an Ethiopian military base 18 miles from the capital, said resident Mayow Mohamed. Troops opened fire on the minibus as it sped toward the base, he said.

The last seven days of clashes have killed 358 people, including at least 29 civilians and 36 insurgents who died Tuesday, according to Somalia's Elman Human Rights Organization.

Bodies lay rotting on the streets for days — too dangerous to retrieve.

Most of the fighting was around front line positions and weary Mogadishu residents said it was not as fierce as in previous days.

"The sides have got tired so they need breathing space to replace their men and repair their damaged equipment," said Abdi Ahemd Shoma.

The latest fighting flared seven days ago after Ethiopian and Somali government troops made a final push to wipe out the insurgency, Western diplomatic and Somali government sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Facing international pressure over the mounting death toll, the government and its Ethiopian appeared determined to bring order before a national reconciliation conference in June. Clan and warlord militia have also joined the fight against the Ethiopians and government forces.

A bid earlier this month to wipe out the insurgency left more than 1,000 people dead, many of them civilians.

More than 320,000 Somalis have fled the capital since February, streaming to squalid camps with little to eat and no shelter. Tens of thousands of others remain trapped by the fighting.

In a letter obtained by the AP on Tuesday, Somali Interior Minister Mohamed Mohamud Guled told the World Food Program that the government must inspect any goods being sent to Somalia.

Soldiers at a military checkpoint outside Mogadishu turned back a World Food Program shipment that would have benefited 32,000 people because the government had not given clearance, Graham Farmer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said in an April 12 letter to Gedi.

In a letter to President Abdullahi Yusuf last week, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger called on the government to stop "halting distribution of food aid for unspecified inspections."

He also said at least one government-appointed regional governor "required payment for the transit of relief goods on top of payments already made to militia checkpoints. These practices are unacceptable and undermine the legitimacy of your government."

The letters were provided to the AP by an aid official who asked not to be named for fear of being fired.

Somalia's transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help, but has struggled to extend its control over the country.


Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Mohamed Olad Hassan contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.

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