Monday, April 2, 2007

Government Urges Somalians to Flee Homes

Monday April 2, 2007 3:16 PM


Associated Press Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP)- The fragile Somali government backed by Ethiopian forces called on civilians in the capital Monday to leave their homes in disputed areas ahead of a new military offensive against a lethal Islamic insurgency.

Salad Ali Jelle, the deputy defense minister, said the government does not recognize a cease-fire negotiated between Ethiopian military and clan elders.

``We call on the civilians living in terrorist-held areas in Mogadishu to abandon their houses because it is possible that government troops may target these areas any time,'' Jelle said. ``We have to clean Al-Qaida elements from Mogadishu.''

The commander of Somalia's military forces, Abdullahi Ali Omar, escaped a suspected roadside bombing as he drove in a government convoy from his hotel Monday, witnesses told The Associated Press. Two policemen were injured in the blast, witness Mohamed Abukar said, but Omar's vehicle was not hit, said another onlooker, Hussein Ali.

There was a glimmer of hope Sunday when Mogadishu's highly influential and dominant clan said it had brokered a truce to stop the fighting.

But mortars were raining down hours after Hawiye clan spokesman Ahmed Diriye made the announcement.

The U.N. refugee agency says 47,000 people, who are mainly women and children, have fled violence in the Somali capital in the last 10 days.

More than 200 people have been wounded in the worst fighting the city has seen in 15 years, the International Committee of the Red Cross says. At least 30 and probably far more have been killed, according to aid groups and medics.

There was calm, however, in the capital early Monday.

Some businesses were reopened and public transport system started to operate in the deserted streets of the capital.

Jelle said his government was fighting with terrorists for the last four days, not clan militias. ``The Hawiye clan are not terrorists,'' Jelle said.

On the reported cease-fire, he said ``it is null and void.'' Jelle also dismissed reports that Ethiopian reinforcements were pouring into the city of two million. Around 4,000 Ethiopian troops are in Mogadishu, say Western diplomats who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because it related to security matters.

Uganda, which has about 1,400 troops here as the vanguard of a larger African Union peacekeeping force, said Sunday it had lost its first soldier - a man who was hit by a mortar on Saturday. So far, Uganda is the only country to contribute to the peacekeeping force.

The insurgents are linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, which was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, accompanied by U.S. special forces. The U.S. has accused the courts of having ties to al-Qaida.

The Islamic courts stockpiled thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition during the six months they controlled Mogadishu. The insurgency will likely last until that stockpile is depleted, or key leaders are killed.

The militants have long rejected any secular government and have sworn to fight until Somalia becomes an Islamic emirate.

Experts fear the conflict in Somalia could engulf the region. In Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit sent urgent letters Sunday to the United Nations, Arab League and the African Union urging a speedy intervention to end the fighting in Somalia.

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned each other.

A national government was established in 2004 but has failed to assert any real control.

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