Official urges Mogadishu residents to leave
NAIROBI, Kenya – A Somali government official warned exhausted Mogadishu residents Monday that another military offensive against insurgents was on the way, as scores of people joined the mass exodus from the capital.
In a local radio interview, Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle told civilians to get out while there was still time, and hundreds if not thousands did, streaming out of the oceanside city in cars and battered buses, on foot, on donkeys, and even by wheelchair.
Abdullahi Ahmed, 75 and infirm, planned to pay a man to push him out of the capital. He lost his wife, daughter and four relatives in fighting that has consumed this city since a popular Islamic movement was ousted in December.
“I will go to Afgoye,” he said at Medina Hospital in Mogadishu, referring to the town about 30 miles away, where he hopes to find welcoming relatives. “I don’t have a car.”
About 47,000 residents have abandoned the battered city of 2 million in the past 10 days, and nearly 100,000 have left since February, according to a United Nations agency, which warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding.
People are sleeping under trees, on the sides of roads, and going without food and water for days as they make their way to distant towns or massive refugee camps across the Kenyan border, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
In Mogadishu, 381 people have died in heavy fighting during the past four days, according to a Somali human rights group cited by the Associated Press. The toll does not include soldiers or insurgents, and the group said the figure could be higher.
Fighting has escalated in recent days between the Ethiopian-backed transitional government and a relentless insurgency led by the ousted Islamic movement and fighters from the city’s dominant Hawiye clan, who had supported the movement and now say they are being excluded by the new government.