The latest fighting in Mogadishu, in which dozens have been killed and thousands displaced since 23 February, is an attempt to wrongfoot the new government, led by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, observers and analysts said.
"The fighting is an attempt to derail and pre-empt the new president's actions regarding reconciliation," said a Nairobi-based regional analyst, who requested anonymity. "It is bad but not fatal to Sheikh Sharif’s efforts."
Noting that the clashes underlined the urgency with which Sheikh Sharif must move to build a coalition and secure the city and south-central Somalia, he warned that the president would be in an untenable position if the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops used disproportionate force.
Timothy Othieno, a regional analyst at the London-based Overseas Development Institute, told IRIN the fighting had complicated the current initiatives to stabilise Mogadishu and Somalia in general. Sheikh Sharif, he added, needed to negotiate with the opposition based in Asmara, Eritrea.
"If he can come to some agreement with [the group in] Asmara, then deal with Sheikh Aweys [one of the former leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts and head of the Asmara-based opposition] and Al-Shabab [rebel group], only then can pressure be brought to bear on Al-Shabab's fragmented units and their various backers.
"The reality is that the current crisis is, once gain, tied to regional politics – the Eritrea/Ethiopia problem. Sheikh Sharif is seen as an Ethiopian (and by extension the US) compromise and not trusted by hardliners (Al-Shabab and Sheikh Aweys et al) and most importantly Eritrea."
However, Abdi Mohamed Baffo, a Somali analyst, said the fighting showed the weakness of the opposition. "By showing flexibility and agreeing to talk to [everyone], the new president has painted his opponents into a corner."
Religious leaders and Hawiye (the predominant clan in Mogadishu) elders had supported the president's position, he added. "The fighting is intended to muddy the waters," Baffo added. "If anything it is making people angrier and put him [the president] in a stronger position."
Photo: Hassan Mahamud/IRIN
Scared families fled the districts of Hodan and Hawl-Wadag after fighting broke out
Reconciliation process "on track"
Interior Minister Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar said the fighting was "regrettable and unnecessary", but added that it would not deter the government from proceeding with the reconciliation process.
"Any differences between Somalis can be and should be resolved through dialogue," he told IRIN. "The Somali people do not need any more fighting."
Clashes between government forces, backed by AMISOM troops, and Hisbul Islami, formed by a breakaway faction of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia and three other insurgent groups, have reportedly killed at least 40 people and injured 89 more, local sources said.
The fighting reportedly started when Hisbul Islami forces moved into areas of Hodan and Hawl-Wadag, south Mogadishu.
"Thousands of families are fleeing the districts of Hodan and Hawl-Wadag," Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation (EHRO), told IRIN.
"Since the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops [in late January], there has been a steady return of people to the area," he added. "Now that has been reversed in two days."
Yassin called on both sides "to stop the indiscriminate shelling of populated areas". The fighting, he added, had shocked the people of Mogadishu who expected a reprieve after the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces and election of the new president.
"It came at the wrong time, when people least expected it," he said.
The fighting reportedly subsided on 25 February, but a medical source said more injured were being brought to Madina Hospital in Mogadishu.
"They have just brought two small children and other wounded have been coming in all day," he said. Most of the wounded were women, children and the elderly.
A civil society source said the fighting would discourage many internally displaced persons from returning. Bakara market, the country's largest, was one of the hardest-hit areas, he added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions