Fierce fighting has resumed in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, giving the lie to claims that the US-backed Ethiopian invasion would bring an era of peace.
On Wednesday of last week 16 people died during clashes between Ethiopian-backed government forces and local opponents.
The next day at least four people were killed in fighting.
And on Friday of last week a cargo plane carrying 11 people was shot down after taking off from the main airport in Mogadishu.
It crashed in the city’s northern suburbs.
This is the most serious tension since 1,200 African Union “peacekeepers” arrived in Somalia, earlier this month, as back-up and possible replacement for the Ethiopian forces.
In an echo of the scenes when the US was driven from Somalia in the 1990s, the bodies of slain Ethiopian soldiers were dragged through the streets and set on fire during the fighting.
Hundreds of Mogadishu residents are fleeing the violence. “I moved my family from Towfiq to a safer neighbourhood. I found a place for my family, but there are many who have no shelter at all,” Hassan Mahamud, a Mogadishu resident, told the Irin news service.
“There are many families sheltering in the open along the Mogadishu-Afgoye [south] road.”
Hospital sources said most of the injured or killed were civilians – especially women and children.
“We have 105 war-wounded in our hospital from last Wednesday’s fighting,” said Sheikhdon Salad Ilmi, the director of Medina hospital.
Sheikh Aweys, a leader of the United Islamic Courts group that was displaced by the Ethiopians, said Somalis were defending themselves.
“If all foreign troops leave Somalia we shall settle our differences. But at the moment the people in Mogadishu are defending themselves and nobody should question them,” he said.
A sign of the fragility of the Somali transitional federal government is that sections of troops are defecting from its forces. Around 70 arrived in the Bulo-Burde town of Hiran region in central Somalia last weekend.
The soldiers were among government troops recently trained in Bali-dogle military airfield. Ahmed Isse Hersi, one of the defecting troops, said they had left because they faced strong resistance in Mogadishu.