Mogadishu – While many Somalis continued to flee their strife-torn capital, the mayor of Mogadishu on Sunday played down reports that thousands were deserting their homes.
Ade Ali Gabow told AFP that the city was returning to calm and said reports that thousands were escaping the worst violence since December were exaggerated.
“You know this has been a ghost town which has had no peace for a long time so people fleeing is not big news, as long as it is not exaggerated,” Gabow said.
“This city is calm and I don’t think more people are fleeing, so I ask the media not to overstate what is happening in the capital.”
Witnesses on Saturday said thousands were fleeing Somalia after heavy fighting overnight between Ethiopian troops and unidentified insurgents.
Many civilians, who are increasingly caught in crossfire, said they were leaving after the worst fighting since late December, when a hardline Islamist movement was driven out by the interim Somali government and its Ethiopian allies.
The government and the Ethiopians blame remnants of the Islamist movement for the insurgent attacks.
Meanwhile a previously unknown insurgent group calling itself the Somali Popular Defence Army, claiming to be founded by Somali military veterans, vowed late Saturday to fight Ethiopia, Kenya and the United States.
“We have seen that three enemies have made an alliance in humiliating our fame and religion and they are America, Ethiopia and Kenya,” the group said in a statement posted on a suspected Islamist web site.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that the US airforce used bases in eastern Ethiopia to launch attacks on suspected extremist positions in Somalia, a claim Addis Ababa dismissed as “baseless.”
Somlia is anxiously awaiting the deployment of an 8 000-strong African Union force, approved last Tuesday by the UN Security Council, to try to help the transitional government restore order in Mogadishu. – AFP
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