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Mogadishu Clashes Claims 113 Amid Looming Humanitarian Disaster
The United Nations warned of a humanitarian catastrophe with corpses left rotting in the streets, where rival fighters continued pounding each other with heavy artillery.
Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization, said his group arrived at the toll by collating figures from hospitals, other humanitarian groups and counting bodies abandoned in the streets.
Ethiopian troops helped the U.N.-backed transitional government to oust Islamists from Mogadishu in January. But since then fighting has steadily grown worse as Islamist insurgents and clan warlords have vowed to oust the Ethiopians.
"We call upon the Ethiopians and the insurgents to stop fighting without any conditions," Ahmed said.
"Otherwise, if they continue fighting many people will die and that is pointless," he said.
Residents said the non-stop shelling that erupted at midday was the longest in three days of fighting that broke out on Tuesday, but abated briefly on Wednesday.
"A mortar shell landed in a house in Sanaa junction, killing four people and wounded three others, including the father of the family," said Abdulkadir Ali, a resident in northern Mogadishu.
An earlier toll put the death count at 43 and hundreds wounded in three days of fighting. The clashes began on Tuesday, followed by a lull on Wednesday which was shattered on Thursday.
The worsening situation in Mogadishu has led U.N. humanitarian officials to warn of a looming disaster.
The U.N. refugee agency said more than 321,000 people have fled Mogadishu since Feb 1 when the fighting first began.
"Unless something is done, the humanitarian crisis is going to turn into a catastrophe very soon," Eric Laroche, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Somalia, told journalists Thursday.
The U.N. said Somali government forces were blocking relief supplies and that U.N. aircraft were being shot at. Addis Ababa rejected the claims.
In Mogadishu, bodies were left lying in the streets, while a cholera or diarrhea epidemic was taking hold and new flooding was likely soon, it added.
More Ethiopian troops moved into Mogadishu to reinforce their colleagues a day after a suspected suicide bomber attacked their base south of the capital.
The Islamists have vowed to wage a prolonged guerrilla war against the Ethiopians and the capital is in the grips of fierce fighting, touching off an exodus of civilians.
The Hawiye clan elders have accused the Ethiopians of refusing to withdraw from the frontline, attacking the insurgents and shattering a fragile ceasefire.
But an official close to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's office said the two sides were "still in secret, intermittent talks."
Elders have said at least 1,000 people have died and more than 4,000 have been wounded in the fighting.
In Addis Ababa, Somali President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed said the government was determined to wipe out the insurgents blamed for insecurity in the seaside capital, home to about a million people.
"And unless we do action, Mogadishu will never be safe for anyone — the public or the government — and that is why we are fighting," Yusuf told reporters.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991 touched off a power struggle that exploded into inter-clan warfare.
Meanwhile, the African Union envoy to Somalia Mohamed Foum held talks with Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi in Mogadishu on the deployment of more AU peacekeepers in the lawless country.
Some 1,500 AU peacekeepers from Uganda deployed in the lawless capital early March have failed to stem the surge in violence. They have instead taken positions in the main airport, sea port, presidential palace and a key access road to the airport.
The Ugandans are an advance contingent of about 8,000 peacekeepers the pan-African body plans to deploy in Somalia to help President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed maintain control of the country.