Somalia

Somalis trickle back to relative calm of capital

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By Sahal Abdulle

MOGADISHU, April 30 (Reuters) - Minibuses with mattresses strapped to the roof ferried scores of Somalis back to their shell-shattered capital on Monday, three days after the government claimed significant gains against insurgents.

Carrying pots and pans, many returning home said they would avoid northern Mogadishu, the scene of some of the worst fighting in 16 years between allied Somali-Ethiopian troops and a mixture of Islamist gunmen and disgruntled clansmen.

"We can't go back to where the troops are. There is some unexploded ordnance in my neighbourhood," said Maryam Ali, a resident of the Towfiq neighbourhood.

One cafe owner said he planned to reopen his business in a couple of days, but would wait before sending for his family.

Although the machineguns, tanks and rocket-propelled grenades have fallen silent since Friday, many residents feared the insurgents, who include foreign jihadists, were regrouping.

The battle for control of Mogadishu has killed at least 1,300 people in recent weeks and turned parts of the coastal city into a ghost town.

The United Nations has warned of a looming catastrophe with 365,000 people fleeing the capital over the past three months -- most of them clinging to survival under trees in surrounding towns or out in the open.

Some traders from Mogadishu set up shop on roadside tables at Lafole, 20 km (12 miles) from the capital, selling vegetables, meat and milk to the displaced groups camped there.

In an apparent gesture of reconciliation, President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi on Sunday held face-to-face meetings with their main political opponents -- Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan.

The Hawiye have opposed a government they see favouring Yusuf's rival Darod clan.

"We met the president and the prime minister yesterday and we agreed principally to solve through negotiations the disagreements that we have between us," Hawiye elder Ugaz Abdi Dahir told Reuters.

"We agreed to have another meeting to address deeply the issues we both have," he added. But he gave no date.

The government, established in 2004, is determined to restore central rule to the Horn of Africa country for the first time since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Since announcing victory over the insurgents, the government has ordered civilians in the gun-infested city to disarm, while deploying joint Somali-Ethiopian troops to search opposition strongholds for rebels and looters.

The government has also appointed formerly powerful warlords as national police boss and mayor to oversee law and order in the city, where the last security crackdown ignited a new round of bloodshed and violence.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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