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Hundreds Killed, Wounded as Fighting Continues in Somalia

November 21, 1991

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Forces loyal to Somalia’s president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, today clashed in the East African nation’s capital for a fifth day with supporters of a rival clan leader, aid workers said.

The workers said that hundreds of people have died in the conflict between forces of Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, chairman of the ruling United Somali Congress, and those of the president.

Aidid claimed that he ousted Ali Mahdi on Monday, one day after the conflict erupted. The president’s forces, however, continue to resist the challenge from their stronghold in the city’s north, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

″The situation is appalling,″ said Brigitte Meng, of the International Committee of the Red Cross. ″The hospitals are overcrowded, overwhelmed, with wounded.″

The conflict is essentially clan-based, with Aidid and Ali Mahdi representing different subgroups of the country’s large, central Hawiiye clan from which the ruling party draws its strength.

Aidid, of the Habar Gedir group, has long resented that Ali Mahdi, of the Abgal group, holds the presidency. Ali Mahdi, in turn, has been trying to have Aidid removed as party chairman.

Ali Mahdi, 52, was named president soon after the United Somali Congress ousted former President Mohamed Siad Barre in January following a month of heavy fighting in the capital, Mogadishu. Diplomatic sources say as many as 20,000 people were killed in that conflict.

Still, Ali Mahdi has failed to consolidate his authority or extend control of his government beyond Mogadishu.

Northern Somalia, which also opposed Ali Mahdi’s leadership, seceded as the Somaliland Republic in May and is peaceful. The rest of the Horn of African nation is riven by clan feuding and carved into separate fiefdoms.

The Paris-based Doctors Without Borders said more than 300 people were daily entering hospitals, but that the fighting prevented many others from finding medical attention.

In addition, ″there are no hospitals on Ali Mahdi’s side. We have no idea what’s happening there,″ an aid worker said.

Aid sources described the battles as the heaviest since Siad Barre was ousted. An estimated 500 people were killed and 1,500 wounded when fighting first broke out between the ruling party’s factions in September.

They also said the situation potentially set the stage for an open civil war, as other large clans were beginning to ally themselves on either side.

Italy today sent in two more planes to evacuate Italians from its former colony. After Siad Barre’s ouster, Italy and Egypt were the only nations to reopen diplomatic missions in the city. Most of Italy’s Embassy personnel were airlifted out of Mogadishu on Tuesday.

Aidid, about 60, dislikes the Italians, claiming they allied themselves too closely with Ali Mahdi. During the first two days of the recent fighting, the Italian Embassy was sacked.

Telecommunications with Somalia, severed in January, remain cut.

Although formerly a U.S. ally and before that a Soviet client, Somalia lost its strategic value to the superpowers with the end of the Cold War. The United States cut off aid in the late 1980s after increasing allegations of widespread human rights abuses by Siad Barre’s government.

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