MOGADISHU: Residents start to flee from their home after recent crashes between the Somali security forces and the Somali military force supporting anti-government opposition leaders erupted over the president’s bid to extend his mandate yesterday. – AFP

MOGADISHU, Somalia: Civilians caught between pro-government and opposition forces in the Somali capital fled their homes yesterday as the heavily armed rivals reinforced their positions after clashes that left three dead. Mogadishu is witnessing its worst political violence in years after elections were delayed and the president extended his mandate despite warnings that doing so risked instability in the fragile country. Months of talks backed by the United Nations failed to overcome the election impasse and the dispute turned violent Sunday as forces loyal to the president traded gunfire with fighters allied to his political rivals.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to refrain from further violence while the United States, a key ally, warned of sanctions if negotiations for elections did not urgently resume. Police said Monday that three people-two police officers and one opposition soldier-were killed in the skirmishes as the warring sides barricaded roads and guarded their territory with trucks mounted with machine guns.

Tensions remained high yesterday as civilians in some Mogadishu districts began evacuating their homes, piling their belongings into rickshaws or donkey carts ahead of feared return to violence. “This is a horrible situation Mogadishu is facing today. People are fleeing their houses because of this increased military tension”, said Said Ali, a witness.

‘Fear for our lives’
Residents in Siigaale, a neighborhood in southern Mogadishu, said opposition reinforcements arrived overnight and had taken up positions not far from government troops. “We fear for our lives… We have decided to get out of here before it is too late,” said Shamis Ahmed, a mother of five her abandoned her home.

Tensions had been rising in the capital since February when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term expired before elections were held, and street protests against his rule were broken up with gunfire. Earlier this month the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, signed a law extending his mandate by two years, further angering his political opponents who declared the measure unconstitutional. – AFP