Mogadishu violence: Civilians flee home amid fears of fresh uprising

Mogadishu, Somalia: Civilians fled their homes in the Somali capital on Tuesday fearing a fresh outbreak of violence following deadly street clashes and warnings that the country's security forces could be splintering into rival factions.

Mogadishu is witnessing its worst political violence in years after elections were delayed and the president extended his mandate despite warnings that doing so risked instability in the fragile Horn of Africa country.

Months of UN-backed talks failed to overcome the election impasse, and the dispute turned violent Sunday as forces loyal to the president traded gunfire with fighters allied to his political rivals.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to refrain from further violence while the United States, a key ally, warned of sanctions if negotiations for elections do not urgently resume.

Police said Monday that three people -- two police officers and one opposition soldier -- were killed in the skirmishes.

The opposition -- which included soldiers from the national army fighting for opposition leaders from their own clans -- control parts of the city, with roads barricaded and territory guarded by trucks mounted with machine guns.

'Fear for our lives'

Tensions remained high Tuesday as families in some Mogadishu districts began evacuating their homes, piling their belongings into rickshaws or donkey carts ahead of a feared return to violence.

"This is a horrible situation Mogadishu is facing today. People are fleeing their houses because of this increased military tension", said Said Ali, a witness.

Residents in Siigaale, a neighborhood in southern Mogadishu, said opposition reinforcements arrived overnight and had taken up positions not far from government troops.

"We fear for our lives... We have decided to get out of here before it is too late," said Shamis Ahmed, a mother of five who abandoned her home.

Tensions had been rising in the capital since February when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's term expired before elections were held, and street protests against his rule were broken up with gunfire.

Earlier this month the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, signed a law extending his mandate by two years, further angering his political opponents who declared the measure unconstitutional.

Also read | Somali opposition fighters cordon off parts of tense capital

Some of these opposition leaders are capable of mobilizing well-equipped militias loyal to clans, and soldiers from the poorly paid national army were present in the Mogadishu clashes fighting for local allegiances.

AFP spoke with one military commander who had entered Mogadishu to fight for the opposition and vowed to remain in the capital until Farmajo had been toppled.

The UN Mission in Somalia said it was "alarmed" by clan divisions within the Somali National Army and warned the political conflict distracted from the battlefield where Al-Shabaab militants are waging a deadly insurgency.

"Use of security forces for the pursuit of political objectives is unacceptable," UNSOM said in a statement.

Clan identity is the main driver of politics and many aspects of daily life in Somalia.

'On the precipice'

The fragile nation has not had an effective central government since the collapse of a military regime in 1991 led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.

Mogadishu, one of the few parts of the country under central government control, has not seen street combat on this scale for years and the conflict has dangerously sharpened clan divisions, analysts say.

Somalia analyst Omar Mahmood said the fracturing of Somalia's security forces along these lines puts the already-fragile country on a "precipice".

"When we're talking about the breakdown of security forces along clan lines it really is reminiscent of the civil war that began in the late 80s and early 90s in Somalia," the senior analyst for the International Crisis Group told AFP.

For more than a decade, conflict has centered on Al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda, who control swathes of countryside and regularly stage deadly attacks in the capital.

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