By Sahal Abdulle
MOGADISHU, April 27 (Reuters) - Gunmen plundered computers and bags of sugar from a Coca Cola plant in Mogadishu on Friday during a lull in fighting between allied Somali-Ethiopian troops and insurgents, a local manager said.
The unidentified group, who were wearing uniforms, commandeered 12 trucks to drive away the booty seized in the overnight looting spree that took place after the plant was shelled, local Coca Cola manager Bashir Mohamed Araye said.
"Our offices were broken into and all computers looted. We had supplies of sugar that were supposed to last the whole year -- they were also looted," added the manager of the Somali-owned franchise in a smart and modern compound in Mogadishu.
The odd stray bullet was heard in the Somali capital, a day after Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi declared significant gains in the government's nine-day offensive to end resistance by a group of Islamist fighters, foreign jihadists and some clansmen.
But many Somalis, undergoing a refugee exodus worse than Iraq in recent months, were sceptical the war was winding down.
There was no respite for medical workers struggling with little or no supplies to patch up the wounded, many ferried to overflowing hospitals in wheelbarrows and donkey carts.
Trapped by fighting, several women gave birth in an improvised maternity ward -- a grass hut under a tree.
"In the last three days, a midwife named Asha Hamari has delivered six babies," resident Abukar Al Badri told Reuters.
"DESTRUCTION AND MAYHEM"
Mogadishu's worst fighting for 16 years has killed at least 1,300 people since February, locals say, and turned parts of the shell-shattered coastal city into a ghost town.
The United Nations has accused all sides in the Somalia conflict of breaking humanitarian law by indiscriminately firing on civilian areas in Mogadishu. U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said the rate of displacement in Somalia over the past three months was worse than Iraq in the same period.
Some 350,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February, more than a third of its one million population.
"In that one time frame, more people have been displaced inside Somalia than any place else in the world and that includes Iraq, Darfur...and Sri Lanka," she told the BBC.
Thousands of homeless have sought shelter in surrounding town and villages, sleeping under trees or out in the open, vulnerable to disease and armed thugs.
The United Nations said refugees were being charged for sitting under shade of trees by people who owned land along the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye, some 30 km (19 miles) west.
U.N. children's agency UNICEF "deplored" on Friday the shelling of the SOS hospital in Mogadishu. It said fighting was keeping it from reaching hundreds of civilians there.
The United States and European Union have criticised the Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies for obstructing aid flows. Somali and Ethiopian officials have angrily dismissed those allegations.
The European Union made public a letter from its aid chief Louis Michel to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf complaining about mistreatment of refugees.
"There is confirmed evidence that these displaced persons are being subjected to systematic looting, extortion and rape by uniformed troops," he wrote. Both militia and "unreasonable administrative obstacles" imposed by the government were holding up aid, Michel added in this week's letter. (Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis in Geneva)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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