ISLAMISTS attacked African peacekeepers in Mogadishu, sparking a battle that killed 11 civilians and sent many fleeing the city in Somaliaâ€™s escalating insurgency, witnesses said on Wednesday.
“We have no hope now and I think this is the end of Mogadishu,” mother-of-seven Fatuma Kassim said, joining a stream of residents escaping the coastal capital.
The insurgents have this month increasingly turned their fire on African Union (AU) troops in what analysts view as a tactic to prevent any further foreign intervention in the Horn of Africa nation, engulfed in civil conflict since 1991.
Mogadishu shook on Tuesday night as an AU base was shelled from various sides, prompting heavy return fire and tank incursions into a market area viewed as a rebel stronghold.
The African Union, whose 2 200 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers have done little to quell the war, said it suffered no casualties.
The pan-African body wants to hand over to the United Nations, but that organisation is wary of entering a quagmire some are calling “Africaâ€™s Iraq”, especially given its disastrous attempt to impose peace there in the early 1990s.
“The insurgents have decided to hit the AU hard to intimidate Africa from sending any more soldiers and to make the likelihood of UN intervention even more remote,” said a Western diplomat who tracks Somalia.
Once again, it was Mogadishu residents counting their dead on Wednesday. Since the insurgency began at the start of 2007, nearly 10 000 civilians have died.
“A big shell killed five people after it landed on them as they ran to take cover,” witness Osman Farah said.
Islamist spokesman Abdirahim Isse Adow said Tuesday nightâ€™s attack was retribution for the shelling of a market earlier in the week, which he blamed on the peacekeepers.
About one million Somalis live as internal refugees in what aid agencies call one of the worldâ€™s worst humanitarian crises. â€“â€“ Reuters.
Drought and high food prices have compounded the effect of the conflict on a traumatised population.
With kidnappings and assassinations of aid workers rife, relief agencies face a dangerous task to help Somalis.
A U.S. expert on Somalia, John Prendergast, said the insurgents now view outside players — from the African Union to relief groups — as helping the government.
“They look at most of these external actors as probably sympathetic to the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) or at least facilitating the TFGâ€™s goals, so shutting out as many of these people as possible, whether NGO or U.N. actors, will only help the Islamists,” he said.