Rebels Say President’s Bunker Surrounded
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ President Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia was under rebel siege in an air force bunker and more than 500 people had been killed in two days of fighting in that nation’s capital, rebels claimed Tuesday.
A spokesman for the rebel United Somali Congress also said the hospitals were full and appealed to the international community for food and medicine.
Telecommunications with the Horn of Africa nation of 8 million people were cut and it was not possible to obtain independent comment on the situation from Mogadishu, the capital.
In London, the Foreign Office said late Tuesday it believed the government was still in overall control of Mogadishu, but that fighting had been non-stop for 24 hours.
Prime Minister Muhammad Hawadleh Madar, in a radio address, appealed to Somalis to ″keep the peace.″ The broadcast indicated the government was still in control of the radio, despite rebel claims to the contrary.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy summoned the Americans remaining in Mogadishu to the fortified U.S. Embassy compound, according to a Nairobi-based radio monitor who heard a radiotelephone conversation between two Americans in Mogadishu. About 80 Americans remain in the country.
Most Western embassies and aid and United Nations organizations have evacuated all but essential staff from the capital and have urged nationals there on private business to leave.
Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vittorio Surdo said a warship from the flotilla enforcing the embargo against Iraq would be sent from the gulf area to help in the evacuation of foreigners from Somalia.
Italy will try to send a C-130 cargo plane from Nairobi to Mogadishu on Wednesday to evacuate foreigners if a halt to the fighting could be arranged, he said in Rome. Surdo estimated 450 foreigners remained in Somalia, 350 of them Italians.
The rebels have been advancing toward Mogadishu for several months and until Monday’s battles were reported about 30 miles outside of the capital.
Abdulcadir Mohammed Abdulle, the rebel spokesman, said Siad Barre was ″trying to escape the country and is hiding out in a bunker by the military airport, which is surrounded by the forces of the USC.″
The president, believed to be in his 70s or 80s, seized power in a coup in 1969, installed a political system he called ″scientific socialism″ and won Soviet backing.
In 1977, Somalia and traditionally pro-Western Ethiopia went to war over the vast Ogaden desert. Their superpower relations flip-flopped, with the Soviet Union deserting Siad Barre and Washington turning to Somalia.
The United States has been Siad Barre’s strongest ally since the late 1970s, but has sharply reduced aid in recent years, citing human rights abuses.
Diplomatic and Somali sources, both in and out of Mogadishu, say Siad Barre for several months has lived largely at a bunker at the airport. Presumably, such proximity to the airport would allow for an easy escape.
Abdulle told The Associated Press in Rome that in addition to the dead, a large number of civilians had been wounded. He accused the government of targeting civilians.
In their earlier communique, the insurgents said they had seized the airport, state television and radio and were in control of Mogadishu, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
But Somalia’s foreign minister, Ahmed Mohamed Aden, dismissed the rebel assertions. In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Aden described the attackers as bandits, some of whom might be rebels, and said the fighting was restricted to one or two areas of the city.
Aden, who left Somalia Monday on a visit to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, said Somali security forces were in control of Mogadishu and that the fighting was largely a matter of looting and lawlessness.
Bazookas, mortar fire, light cannons and machine-gun fire could be heard in the streets Monday. The BBC said many buildings were destoyed by artillery and rockets.
Law and order had broken down over the past year, increasing street crime and violence by security forces.
The rebel United Somali Congress is a recently formed group that springs from Somalia’s large central Hawiye clan. It is one of three loosely coordinated rebel groups that rejected government calls for negotiations in the past month, saying they prefer to remove Siad Barre at gunpoint.
In the north, the Somali National Movement has been fighting for Siad Barre’s ouster since 1982. To the south, the government has been challenged by the Somali Patriotic Front, which has been quiet of late.
Siad Barre, leader of the tiny Marehan clan, has kept power in the past by cunningly playing off the larger clans.
Somalia borders Ethiopia, Kenya and tiny Djibouti, and is across the Gulf of Aden from the Saudi peninsula. It became independent in 1960 as a merger of former Italian and British colonies.