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Mogadishu residents flee Somali rebel clashes
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu (AFP) Aug 8, 2011

Residents fled from pockets of violence around Mogadishu Monday, two days after a surprise rebel pullback that had led the government to claim it fully controlled the famine-stricken city.

Fighting erupted in several areas in the south and north of the city, as African Union-backed government troops set up bases in former Shebab strongholds.

"We are very worried, and many people have already fled to stay away from the firing," said Abdulahi Duale, a resident from the famine-stricken capital's northern Suqaholaha district.

"We could hear shooting close to our neighbourhood," he added.

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels who had controlled around half of Mogadishu abandoned their positions in a surprise withdrawal on Saturday but some units remained active on the outskirts of the capital.

Another resident, Huda Ali said: "We could hear the heavy fighting on Sunday night. We are planning to flee because there are stray bullets reaching close to us now."

Government officials celebrated the hardline rebel pullout, but the Shebab say it is merely "a change of military tactics."

"It was the second day of our changed tactics, and the mujahedeen fighters carried out at least five attacks," Shebab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told reporters.

"We have inflicted heavy losses on the enemy... where the Christian invading forces tried to expand," he added.

Government forces dismissed the rebel claims, reporting only sporadic shooting as soldiers moved cautiously into former Shebab-held areas.

"Our forces are making a gradual advancement into areas of the city where the Islamist militants have left," said Abdikarin Dhegobadan, a senior government officer.

"There is no resistance we are encountering so far -- the very few rebels remaining are running away, and just firing shots from far away," he added.

Yusuf Mohamed Siad Indhoade, the leader of a pro-government militia, said the Shebab were forced to withdraw from Mogadishu because of internal wrangles.

"The tactic change they are claiming is nonsense. We know they are very weak because of the internal disputes and they could not stand a large offensive the government was planning against them, so they pulled out before it was too late," he told reporters.

The city was quieter on Monday morning after fighting during the night, but residents continued to move out, fearing further conflict.

About 100,000 people from drought-stricken areas have come to Mogadishu over the past two months in search of food, water and shelter, and aid efforts to reach them continued Monday.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) airlifted urgent supplies into the city, the group's first such operation in five years.

Relief items are normally delivered by road or sea, but the "unprecedented rise" in civilians fleeing famine forced the agency to airlift supplies to save time, it said.

The 31-metric-tonne delivery, the first of three flights due in coming days, included 2,500 kits containing plastic sheeting for shelter, sleeping mats and blankets, as well as water and cooking utensils.

"This airlift of emergency assistance items will allow us to continue delivering aid to those displaced by drought and famine," UNHCR Somalia representative Bruno Geddo said in a statement.

The United Nations has officially declared famine for the first time this century in Somalia, including in Mogadishu and in four southern Somali regions, and warned that it could spread.

Much of southern Somalia -- including the majority of regions declared to be in famine -- is still controlled by the Shebab rebels.

Somalia is "the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa's worst food security crisis since Somalia's 1991-92 famine," the United Nations has warned.

The United States was expected to announce $105 million in fresh aid to the region, in a pledge due to coincide with a visit to Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp by Jill Biden, wife of US Vice President Joe Biden.

Some $2.4 billion are required to assist 12 million people in the region but only around half of that amount has been received.

Parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda have also been hit by the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades.

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US to offer $105 million in East Africa famine aid
Washington (AFP) Aug 8, 2011 - The United States will Monday offer $105 million in new aid to famine and drought-hit East Africa, where millions of people are facing starvation and need immediate, lifesaving help.

The announcement coincided with a visit to Kenya by Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, which included a tour of refugee camps and meetings with top government figures.

"The president has approved an additional $105 million for urgent humanitarian relief efforts in the Horn of Africa," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"US assistance will continue funding the urgently needed food, health, shelter, water and sanitation assistance to those who desperately need help."

The United Nations last month declared famine in two areas of southern Somalia, as the world slowly mobilized to help 12 million people battling hunger in the region's worst drought in 60 years.

Tens of thousands of people have already died and parts of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti are also hit by drought.

Thousands of Somalis fleeing the famine have poured into Kenya and Ethiopia, compounding the problems faced by those two nations.

US officials said that Jill Biden's trip, which began Monday, was meant to underscore US commitment to helping deal with the crisis in East Africa in the immediate term and also to seek long-term solutions in the Horn of Africa.

"Dr. Biden will visit the Dadaab Refugee Complex, which is receiving thousands of Somali refugees, to draw the world's attention to the crisis and pledge US support for relief operations," a White House statement said.

Biden is due to meet Kenya's Minister of Agriculture Sally Kosgei and to highlight the US administration's programs to address root causes of hunger and insecurity around the world.

The US announcement follows a call on Friday by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for urgent steps to address the crisis after famine struck three new areas of southern Somalia.

Around 12.4 million people in the region currently face acute food shortages and 3.2 million in Somalia need "immediate lifesaving assistance," the UN said.

The FAO said that to reduce the short-term damage, seeds and planting tools should be provided ahead of the October planting season, while livestock health must be boosted with drugs and vaccines.

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