Shelling Rocks Somali Capital Despite UN Call For Peace

Tuesday, April 24th 2007, 7:15 am
By: News On 6

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Artillery shells and mortars rained down on Mogadishu Tuesday in a seventh straight day of raging battles that have left nearly 250 dead and trapped residents in the Somali capital.

Islamic insurgents clashed with Ethiopian troops backing Somali government forces, using mortars and rocket-propelled grenades against tanks and artillery positions in the north of the battle-scarred coastal city.

At least five people were wounded in Tuesday's clashes, said doctors at Mogadishu's largest medical center, the Media Hospital.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the warring sides to ``immediately cease all hostilities and to facilitate access for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.''

More than 320,000 Somalis have fled the capital since February, but tens of thousands of others remain trapped by the fighting, the worst humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged country's recent history.

Bodies lay rotting on the streets for days _ too dangerous to retrieve.

Most of the fighting was around front line positions and weary Mogadishu residents said it was not as fierce as in previous days.

``The sides have got tired so they need breathing space to replace their men and repair their damaged equipment,'' said witness Abdi Ahemd Shoma.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, said late Monday the U.S. was also deeply concerned by the fighting in the Somali capital but condemned Eritrea ``because they continue to fund, arm, train and advise the insurgents.''

``We're pushing for the cease-fire ... so that they can end this violence,'' she told reporters in Washington.

The clashes erupted after Ethiopian and Somali government troops made a final push to try to wipe out the insurgency, Western diplomatic and Somali government sources told the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The government and its Ethiopian backers were facing international pressure over the mounting death toll and appeared determined to bring order before a planned national reconciliation conference. Clan and warlord militia have also joined the fight against the Ethiopians and government forces.

A bid earlier this month to wipe out the insurgency left more than 1,000 people dead, many of them civilians.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help, but has struggled to extend its control over the country.