Somali deaths mount, president downplays clashes (Somalia)
Sporadic shelling and gunfire shook Mogadishu on Friday, but Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf downplayed this week's violence which residents say has killed at least 30 people and wounded scores more
MOGADISHU, April 20 (Reuters) - Sporadic shelling and gunfire shook Mogadishu on Friday, but Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf downplayed this week's violence which residents say has killed at least 30 people and wounded scores more.
Bloodied patients screamed and doctors struggled to tend to scores of wounded crammed into Mogadishu's Madina Hospital after four days of clashes between troops and insurgents.
Soldiers blocked off roads to military bases after a suicide attacker blew himself up on Thursday at a former prison now used by the interim Somali government's Ethiopian military allies.
At least 21 people, mainly civilians, died in that blast and other fighting across the city on Thursday. Nine also died on Tuesday and Wednesday, though locals say the real death-toll -- including an unknown number of fighters -- must be higher.
Residents hardened by 16 years of lawlessness say violence is getting worse in Mogadishu, where Islamist insurgents and some disgruntled Hawiye clan fighters are battling government forces and Ethiopian soldiers. African Union peacekeepers have failed to stem the violence, and have also been targeted.
Adding to an exodus of 218,000 -- more than one fifth of the city's population -- since February, hundreds more people were fleeing by foot, donkey, cart and vehicle, witnesses said.
The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.
"I don't really share the opinion that the situation in Mogadishu or Somalia is getting more tense,"Yusuf told reporters. "Rather I would say the problem of Somalia is slowly but surely ending,"he added in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa where he was holding talks with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Mogadishu residents say the latest fighting, which also saw rockets fired on a crowded market on Thursday, is as bad as four days of battles that killed 1,000 people at the end of March.
A little known Islamist group, calling itself the Young Mujahideen Movement in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the suicide blast. It said it used chemicals in the attack, though it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the Internet statement which referred to a "martyrdom operation".
The United Nations estimates there are 3,000 anti-government combatants, including foreign fighters, in Somalia. The Security Council will in June consider sending peacekeepers.
Yusuf vowed to hunt down gunmen loyal to an Islamist movement defying his government's attempt to establish central rule for the first time since the 1991 fall of a dictator.
Ethiopia's state news agency said Yusuf and Meles, in talks, "underscored the need to intensify terrorist mopping up operations in Mogadishu".
Any military escalation is likely to send more families fleeing. Tens of thousands are living in the open.
Ethiopia dismissed on Friday comments by the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia that its troops and the Somali interim government were not helping with access for aid.
"(Eric) Laroche's statement shows a surprising lack of understanding of the situation in and around Mogadishu and the difficulties for relief operations caused by car bombs, land mines and random rocket attacks by extremists and terrorists,"spokesman Solomon Abebe said.
Oxfam urged Kenya to reopen its border to allow aid to cross and Somali asylum seekers to be screened.
"The approach of the rainy season makes the need for shelter material more pressing as families living under the trees are exposed to the scorching sun, heavy rains and the chilling nights,"the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said. (Additional reporting by Farah Roble in Mogadishu, Guled Mohamed in Nairobi, Sami Aboudi in Dubai and Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)
Von: 20.04.07 www.reliefweb.int by Sahal Abdulle