- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Thousands of terrified civilians poured out of the Somali capital yesterday after heavy fighting between Ethiopian troops and gunmen overnight left at least 10 persons dead.

Some residents scrambled into passenger vans while most just grabbed household items and left on foot for the relative calm of the surrounding countryside, where food is scarce.

“I was very scared yesterday after I heard the heaviest explosion ever in the capital,” said Adan Dirir Bare, a resident of southern Mogadishu.

“I had insisted a lot on staying in Mogadishu, but not now.”

A mother of five, Sahro Ali Mohamed, said houses in her Mogadishu neighborhood were deserted.

“People cannot endure the heavy artillery and mortar exchange that kills people every time,” she said as she left with her family in tow.

Five children were among the dead from clashes late Friday, apparently killed when caught in crossfire, witnesses said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday issued a plea to all warring parties to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law to protect civilians.

It urged them “to take constant care in the conduct of military operations to safeguard the lives and dignity of the civilian population.”

Last week saw some of the heaviest fighting in the capital since late December when a hard-line Islamist movement was driven out by the interim Somali government and its Ethiopian allies.

The government and the Ethiopians blame remnants of the Islamist movement for stoking the violence.

A top Somali army commander yesterday accused unnamed foreign countries of funding the insurgency.

“The assailants are loyal to those who want to create violence in the capital and they are being funded by foreign countries,” Said Dhere told reporters.

“We know who is behind the attacks, and we will crack down on them soon.”

In the past, Somalia has blamed Ethiopia’s arch foe Eritrea for funding the rebel fighters.

Analysts say Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has failed to create a government that includes elders and warlords from powerful sub-clans suspected of organizing the raids.

Rival militias of clan warlords carved up Somalia after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Somalia is awaiting the deployment of an 8,000-strong African Union force to try to help the transitional government restore order in Mogadishu. The deployment was approved Tuesday by the U.N. Security Council.

But the AU has so far managed to raise only half of the required peacekeepers, with troop pledges from Nigeria, Burundi, Malawi and Ghana as well as Uganda.

In a statement posted on a suspected Islamist Web site, a group calling itself the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, which is accused of threatening peacekeepers, vowed to carry out more attacks.

“We vow to welcome ammunition from heavy guns, exploding cars and young fighters determined to carry out martyrdom operations against these troops,” the statement said.

Uganda’s Deputy Defense Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said Friday that Uganda was now waiting for air transport from Algeria to begin its deployment.

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