SOMALIA: Uneasy calm as guns fall silent in Mogadishu

NAIROBI, 27 March 2006 (IRIN) - The Somali capital of Mogadishu was calm on Monday as a ceasefire that came into effect after four days of heavy militia fighting continued to hold, but hundreds of families who fled their homes were yet to return, local sources said.

Most of the displaced families had been living in the city's northern outskirts where the fighting was concentrated. "For the second day, the guns are silent in Mogadishu. How long that will last is a different matter," a local resident who requested anonymity said on Monday. The ceasefire had reportedly been arranged by a mediation committee comprising businessmen and led by prominent Islamic scholar Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Muhyadiin.

Those who were engaged in the mediation efforts said they had asked each side to send two emissaries to the talks. "We have not yet been able to get the two sides to talk face-to-face. We have sent two teams to shuttle between them for now," said Mahamud Gabeyre, a businessman who is involved in the mediation. "We are hopeful that by tomorrow [Tuesday] they will sit together and talk face-to-face."

Gabeyre said the first step in the mediation efforts was to get a permanent ceasefire and then "return things to the way they were before last month [February]." The mediators had not set any deadlines for an agreement. "It may not be today or tomorrow, but I am optimistic we will reach a positive result," he said.

The latest round of fighting in the capital began on 22 March, when militia loyal to businessman Abukar Umar Adani attacked the positions of militiamen loyal to Bashir Raghe, a businessman and militia leader. Forces of the Alliance for Peace and the Fight Against International Terrorism, which comprises several Mogadishu-based faction leaders on Raghe's side, later joined the fighting. Other members of the alliance include Muhammad Qanyare Afrah, Muse Sudi Yalahow, Omar Finnish and Abdirashid Shire Ilqeyte.

Adani also controls the El-Ma'an beach port, which has served as Mogadishu's port since the closure in 1995 of the city's main port.

By Monday, public transport services had resumed in northern Mogadishu and "people had started reopening their businesses," the resident said. The road to El-Ma'an port, which had been closed for almost a week, had reopened, "and trucks laden with goods have been seen coming from the port." He added that the road and the area around Keysaney airstrip in north Mogadishu were now "under the control of the Islamic courts."

A hospital doctor said 140 people had been killed by the time the guns fell silent on Sunday. "Around 122 died in battle or were civilian victims, while 22 died of their wounds in hospital," he said. Some 354 people who were wounded had been admitted to the city's hospitals.

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