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Somali Leader Declares Victory in War with Militants Despite Violence

“We have won the fighting against the insurgents,” Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi told the Associated Press. “People can now return to their homes.”

Gedi claimed an insurgent stronghold in northern Mogadishu was captured and that more than 100 fighters had surrendered. But reports of gunfire and violence, including a missile hitting a hospital ward, continued.

Clashes in April between the governments’ forces and insurgents have killed at least 300 people in Mogadishu. Months of sporadic violence and attacks have caused an estimated 400,000 Somalis to flee the city.

Most of the displaced now live in camps around the city, raising concerns among aid groups that disease and famine may take hold.

The U.N. World Food Programmes started distributing food to displaced people in six areas near Mogadishu on Thursday. Food shipments had been turned away earlier in the week by soldiers at checkpoints because the Somali government had not given clearance.

The United Nations also called for a cease-fire Thursday, and U.N. emergency relief coordinator John Holmes said violations of humanitarian law have been rampant in the conflict.

“All factions are equally guilty of indiscriminate violence in a civilian area,” Holmes said at a news conference.

Ethiopia denied the allegations, saying its forces had “taken every possible precaution to avoid or minimize civilian loss of life,” reported the Mail and Guardian.

The latest violence further delayed a peace conference originally set for April to June 14. The conference was planned to focus on national reconciliation but has been delayed twice by incessant fighting in the streets of the capital.

The inclusion of Islamic factions in the conference also caused disagreement among planners.

The Islamic militants involved in the fighting are linked to the remnants of the Islamic Courts Movement, a group which controlled lawless Mogadishu until it was driven out by Ethiopian forces in December 2006. The remaining militants have sworn to fight until Somalia becomes an Islamic emirate.

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