- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Hundreds of residents fled Somalia’s capital on foot, by car and on donkey carts today and others cleared the streets of corpses after a bloody weekend that left dozens dead.

Fighting between Ethiopian troops and Islamic fighters trying to topple Somalia’s shaky government killed 81 people over two days, a local human rights group said. Hospitals reported similar tallies, with more than 70 dead.

“We have left our homes for the first time in days to find the dead bodies of our neighbors and bury them,” said Aden Haji Yusuf, 60, one of Somalia’s highly revered clan elders.

Gunshots — a frighteningly common sound in this bloodstained capital — echoed in the distance as Yusuf and other elders recovered bodies.

An Associated Press reporter saw at least 10 bodies being collected today around a mosque.

Meanwhile, hundreds took advantage of the relative lull in violence today to escape Mogadishu, abandoning their homes and possessions.

“Ethiopian tanks are still stationed inside our neighborhoods and the insurgents are likely to launch counterattacks, so we are leaving for our own safety,” said Faduma Ahmed, fleeing with her brother and six children.

Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional government’s soldiers come under daily attack from the Islamic fighters they chased from power in the capital in December 2006.

The Islamists receive support from Ethiopia’s archenemy, Eritrea.

Impoverished Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator then turned on one another.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “deeply concerned” about the fighting, particularly about the civilian victims, spokeswoman Michele Montas said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

“He urges parties to the conflict in Mogadishu to refrain from the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force that endangers the lives of civilians, particularly in heavily populated civilian areas, and reminds them that any targeting of non-combatants is a violation of international humanitarian law,” Montas said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States continues to support Somalia’s government. The U.S., long concerned that al-Qaeda could use the lawless country as a haven for terrorists, put the military wing of the Somali Islamic extremist movement on terrorist list.

“Obviously, there are extremist groups that are still in the country that are still intent on using violence to try and achieve their objectives, rather than in participating in the political process,” he said. “This is an ongoing concern for us.”

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