Somalia: Mogadishu residents asked to flee

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Residents of Somali capital city Mogadishu have been advised to flee for their lives as battle between Islamist insurgents, al-Shabab and government forces intensifies. The recent bout of fighting’s have claimed over 50 lives in the past three days. About half of Mogadishu’s residents have already fled the city after 20 years of conflict.

According to Mogadishu’s mayor Mr. Abdurisaq Mohamed Nor, the long-anticipated government offensive may start soon, so residents should withdraw at least 2km. “We urge the civilians to flee from the battle zones and go at least 2km away to avoid being hit,” Mr Nor is quoted as saying.

Government forces are reportedly shelling insurgent front lines, to stop them advancing towards the few areas under control of government forces, who are backed by African Union peacekeepers.

Government leaders and its military commanders have been planning for this impending operation aimed at seizing control of the whole of Mogadishu, reports claim.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, said he was especially worried about the thousands of people who are unable to flee the capital. Already, there are almost 1.5 million people now displaced within Somali.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, some 33,000 people have been driven from their homes in Mogadishu over the past six weeks. Analysts say there are few civilians left in areas which often experience battles, but large numbers remain in some districts controlled by the insurgents.

According to eyewitness accounts, some 200 insurgents loaded in vehicles mounted with machine guns have advanced towards the presidential palace. However, government soldiers and AU peacekeepers fended the insurgents off with heavy artillery, forcing them to retreat.

In previous government-insurgents conflicts in the city of Mogadishu, a convoy of cars, minibuses and trucks deliver civilians to the already overflowing hospitals, and those without motor transport have to rely on wheelbarrows or carts. Years of fighting and weak sate capacity have led to the deaths of up to one million people according to World Development Index.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. In May 2009 Islamist insurgents launched an attack on Mogadishu, prompting the UN-backed transitional government under President Ahmad to appeal for help from abroad.

Al-Shabab is reported to have consolidated its position as the most powerful insurgent group by driving its main rival, Hizbul Islam, out of the southern port city of Kismayo. Since then they have openly declared their alliance with al-Qaeda and have been steadily moving forces up towards Mogadishu, and continues to challenge the UN-backed transitional government that emerged in 2004.

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