Somalis scramble for safety as 52 die in capital

Published April 22, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Islamic insurgents and Ethiopian soldiers turned the streets of the Somali capital into a battleground for a fourth straight day, firing rockets and mortar rounds at each other on Saturday in what a human rights official said was the worst violence in years.

At least 165 civilians have been killed in this week's fighting, including at least 52 on Saturday as residents hid inside, cowered under trees or abandoned the city altogether.

During a journey to Mogadishu's main airport, an Associated Press camera operator saw 11 bodies in the streets - some missing limbs, others decapitated. At one point, a mortar round hit the vehicle in front of his, but everyone survived the blast.

Dahir Dhere, director of Medina hospital, said his hospital had more wounded patients than it could handle and had pitched tents outside to care for them.

Neither the insurgents nor the Ethiopian government, which sent troops to Somalia last year to oust the Islamic movement, has admitted to any casualties.

An AP reporter heard the boom of Ethiopian mortar shells fired toward northern Mogadishu, which appears to be the main battlefield between the two sides.

Residents fled their single-story homes to seek shelter on the ground floors of taller buildings, believing that the higher roofs would better absorb mortar damage, said Aden Mohammed, a former banker who had sought refuge in such a home.

At least one man found no shelter at all and instead cowered beneath a tree.

Hundreds of women, children and men walked or piled into trucks to flee to Mogadishu's outskirts or leave the city, joining an exodus of hundreds of thousands who have abandoned Mogadishu since February. Those on foot Saturday carried cooking utensils, bedding and clothes on their heads. Some looked weak and said they had not eaten for days.

The U.S. ambassador to Kenya and Somalia, Michael Ranneberger, blamed the violence on clan rivals and the remnants of the ousted Islamic movement.