MOGADISHU (AFP) — Somali families displaced by more than two years of fighting in Mogadishu have started returning to their homes following Ethiopia’s withdrawal from the capital, an AFP correspondent reported Saturday.
Only days after the last Ethiopian troops left their positions in Mogadishu, residents enjoyed a rare period of relative calm while others who had left the war-torn city began returning to their homes.
“I lived in a camp outside Mogadishu for a year, after my husband was killed in a mortar attack on Suqaholaha neighbourhood,” said Halimo Nur Hared, a mother-of-six, as she arranged some of her belongings in her home.
“I feel save now that the Ethiopians left our soil,” she added.
“I pray Allah there will be no more fighting after the Ethiopian forces’ departure from Mogadishu. We are returning to our houses,” said Mohamed Ali Hassan, a father of four from the capital’s northern Huriwa neighbourhood.
Ethiopian troops invaded in late 2006 to rescue an embattled Somali transitional government and oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which had taken control of large parts of the country.
The Islamist movement’s armed wing has since waged a deadly guerrilla war, mainly targeting Ethiopian troops, but also government forces and African Union (AU) peacekeepers.
Following an agreement between the government and the moderate wing of the Islamist-led opposition late last year in Djibouti, Ethiopian pulled out.
Yet the hardline Islamist group Shebab vowed to turn its efforts against the AU peacekeepers, while the vacuum created by the Ethiopian army’s departure also risked sparking fresh inter-clan fighting for supremacy in Mogadishu.
Hasan Bile, another recent returnee, predicted he would witness more violence in the capital.
“I’m still worried because some fighters want to continue the war, so it’s likely that the chaos in Mogadishu is not over yet,” he said.
Amid political disputes over who should have taken over the military positions deserted by the Ethiopians, one of the city’s new masters urged civilians to look out for unexploded ordnance as they return to their homes.
“We call upon the fighters in the positions vacated by the enemy of Allah and the civilians that are intending to return their houses to be cautious about the explosive things that are left in those neighborhoods and camps,” said Abdirahin Ise Ado, an ICU spokesman.
Ise Ado’s forces took control of the former defence ministry earlier this week, a position recently deserted by Ethiopian forces.
The move sparked protests from officials arguing that the Djibouti agreement clearly stated only joint government-opposition forces were to take over Ethiopian positions.
Speaking in Addis Ababa after a meeting with UN experts, the African Union peacekeeping force’s top commander, Francis Okello, took heart from the lull in violence in Mogadishu.
“The situation in Mogadishu has been very calm for three days. No attack so far. This calm can mainly be attributed to the clan elders who have come out openly for the peace process,” he said.
“The situation has gotten better. Lots of people are moving back to the city and we are expecting more,” he added.