Battles rage in Mogadishu as emergency aid flights continue


MOGADISHU – Islamist fighters battled pro-government troops in Mogadishu Friday and dead bodies were dragged in the streets even as the UN flew in a second batch of aid for drought-hit children.

The worst fighting in days saw the Shebab insurgents try to claw back lost territory in the capital, where aid groups scrambled to assist civilians left on the brink of starvation by the one of region’s worst ever droughts.

Fierce fighting broke out for the second day running as the al-Qaida-inspired rebels reinforced positions following the launch of a government offensive to secure aid routes for drought victims.

Witnesses said three African Union soldiers were killed in the fighting.

“I saw three dead Ugandan soldiers dragged by the residents in Suqaholaha, they wore army dog-tags around their neck,” said Osmail Yusuf, a witness.

“Their bodies were brought by the Shebab fighters from the frontline.”

There was no immediate confirmation from the AU mission (AMISOM), which has around 9,000 forces from Uganda and Burundi deployed in Mogadishu to protect the embattled Western-backed transitional federal government.

The second flight of the UN World Food Program’s airlift arrived in the war-torn capital despite the clashes, carrying “specialised nutritional food for malnourished children under the age of five,” it said in a statement.

“Our feeding centres continue to operate in spite of the difficult security situation,” said the WFP.

Somalia is the Horn of Africa country worst affected by an extreme drought that has put millions in danger of starvation and spurred a global fund-raising campaign.

The UN raised its appeal Friday, announcing that it was now looking for $2.48 billion for 12.4 million affected people and warning that what has been described as the worst catastrophe in a generation could yet get worse if donors default.

“Without the needed additional voluntary contributions, it is anticipated that the impact of the famine may spread throughout southern Somalia and over the borders into neighbouring countries within the coming one to two months,” UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Nearly half of Somalia’s estimated 10 million people are in need of relief assistance, owing to the effects of relentless violence and the drought that prompted the UN to declare famine for the first time this century.

The UN children’s agency warned on Friday that 1.25 million children in urgent need of life-saving support in drought-struck southern Somalia must be made a “top priority”.

“The children of southern Somalia desperately need our help,” UNICEF Somalia representative Rozanne Chorlton said in a statement, warning that 640,000 children are acutely malnourished.

“Too many of them have already died and many others are at great risk unless we act now,” she added.

But the scope of the catastrophe is huge and delivering aid to one of the most dangerous countries in the world is difficult.

UNICEF has mounted a “massive scale up of its operation” alongside local partners in Somalia to bring in enough high-energy food for 65,000 children into southern Somalia.

Six UNICEF flights and two ships have delivered high-energy food this month, with supplies reaching hardline Shebab rebel-controlled areas.

“Although we have challenges, we are reaching children,” Chorlton added.

The UN say the Shebab are a major obstacle to delivering aid, but the insurgents have been losing ground in the capital in recent months as government troops and AMISOM have clawed their way back to several key positions.

But both sides claimed victory in the fighting Friday, with Shebab fighters claiming to have destroyed an AMISOM tank.

“The enemy tried to penetrate our positions but we have beaten them back, the mujahideen fighters killed many of them,” Shebab spokesman Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab told reporters.

“We destroyed some of their armed vehicles including a tank which is burning,” he added.

But the government deputy army chief also claimed to have won the day’s battle.

“We have weakened the enemy, and we are now advancing onto new locations,” Colonel Abdikarin Dhegobadan told reporters at the frontline.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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