Mogadishu rocked by “worst shelling yet”

At least 100 people were killed and thousands fled their homes in the “worst fighting” to hit Mogadishu in recent months, locals told IRIN.

The fighting on 22 September pitted Ethiopian troops, African Union peacekeeping troops (AMISOM) and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces against insurgents. More than 200 people were reportedly wounded, hospital sources said.

"We are still today [23 September] collecting bodies and body parts from the market and the area around it," Ali Mohamed Siad, chairman of the Bakara market traders, told IRIN. "Blood and body parts are everywhere."

The fighting was concentrated around the large market - which has in the past been the scene of fierce fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents.

"The market and the surrounding neighbourhoods experienced the worst shelling yet," Siad added.

He said the shelling by Ethiopian, AMISOM and TFG forces began when the market was full of shoppers getting ready for the Eid festivities, to mark the end of Ramadan next week.

Up to 82 people have so far been confirmed dead and 157 injured in the market area alone, Siad added. The market was now closed.

Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation, told IRIN the market had been shelled from three different directions. "It was obvious the market was deliberately targeted," he said.

The shelling began after Islamic insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on the two main AMISOM bases at K4 and the airport, said a local journalist.

But AMISOM spokesman Barigye Bahoko told IRIN the AU peacekeepers were not involved in the shelling. "We are absolutely not responsible for the shelling," he said. "Responsibility should be on those who attack our defensive positions."

Local sources said the fighting and shelling were mostly concentrated in the districts of Hodan and Hawl Wadag in south Mogadishu.

Many families are still trying to get out, while others have begun burying the dead and taking the injured to hospital.

A medical source told IRIN the two main hospitals, Madina in the south and Keysaney in the north, were seeing more injured than at any time in the recent past.

"As of last night 195 injured were brought to Madina and about 30 to Keysaney," the source said. Roughly 46 people died in the hospitals, "but that is only those who made it to hospitals".

Meanwhile, talks to end the conflict, which have going on in Djibouti between representatives of the government and a faction of an Eritrea-based opposition alliance, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, again failed to agree a ceasefire.

"The main stumbling block is the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces,” said a civil society activist at the talks.

He said the TFG seemed to be trying to find a way for a less hurried withdrawal, while the Alliance was insisting on a 30-day withdrawal.

The parties agreed to resume talks in 15 days to hammer out a ceasefire agreement.

ah/mw