(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Fighting flares over police cleanup

A police operation in Mogadishu provoked fighting on Thursday, after attempts were made to erect a roadblock near the compound of faction leader Husayn Aydid. Shooting began around midday at a roadblock erected by police from the Transitional National Government (TNG) some 500 metres from Aydid’s base at Villa Somalia, Wardigley, south Mogadishu, local resident Adan Ali told IRIN. The police reportedly repulsed militia loyal to Aydid, who retreated to their compound. Aydid’s militia then began firing mortar bombs into the area, but the police remained at the roadblock, Adan Ali said. He said there was a “possibility” that some people from the area had aligned themselves with Aydid’s forces “in the hope of scuttling the police operation”. After the heavy shooting died down, sporadic bursts of gunfire could be heard in the afternoon, local sources said.

By late afternoon, the police had been forced to withdraw the checkpoint they had attempted to establish near Aydid’s compound, local sources told IRIN. Five people were killed and at least 10 wounded as a result of the fighting, AFP said. Heavy machine guns and antitank rockets were used by the police during the battle, cowing the residents of Mogadishu during the third day of the cleanup operation.
Police began by clearing illegal structures on Tuesday, then used about 50 battlewagons fitted with heavy weapons to take charge of key strategic junctions in the capital at dawn on Wednesday. More than 100 people were arrested, and a number of streets cleared and structures moved, before fighting flared up on Thursday.

Faction leader Husayn Aydid is currently in Ethiopia with other southern-based opposition leaders to discuss ways of pursuing the Somali peace process. A spokesman for Aydid’s opposition grouping of the Somali Restoration and Reconciliation Council (SRRC) condemned the fighting, and called it a “provocation of the Arta group (TNG)”. Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade said from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that it was an attempt by the TNG to seize areas under the control of the opposition. “If this continues the SRRC as a group will join the fighting to assist Hussein’s forces”, he told IRIN.

Mogadishu Police Chief Abdi Hasan Awale Qeybdid told IRIN that since Tuesday he had deployed 2,000 men, supported by over 50 battle-wagons, in the first major crackdown on crime and illegal structures in the capital.

Qeybdid said that while his forces were not looking for confrontation, they were determined to crack down on criminals. He said he had sent emissaries to Aydid’s people to assure them that “they are not a target”.

Since Tuesday, the police have arrested over 150 criminals, most from the Bakara market area, he said. Qeybdid said that the police “will continue the operation until we have a grip on the security situation”.

While many city residents - who have suffered from a particularly serious crime wave in the last four weeks - had generally welcomed police deployment, they were now anxious about the staying power of the force, sources said. “Will they fight as a force or break up into clans?” one resident posed.

Despite the nervousness among observers that the operation could easily deteriorate into another round of serious conflict in Mogadishu, diplomatic sources told IRIN that the deployment of the police against illegal structures and crime was seen by some as “the first time the TNG has acted like a national authority”.

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