, MOGADISHU, Feb 10 – Hundreds of Mogadishu residents were fleeing the war-ravaged city Wednesday, ahead of a large offensive Somalia\’s government has promised against the insurgents to wrest back control of the country.
The launch of the big push against the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab and their allies from Hezb al-Islam was not announced officially but rumours and recent military movements were enough to scare people back on to the road.
"I know too well that neither side cares about civilians in Mogadishu," said 39-year-old Mohamed Isa Abdullahi.
The father of three and his family were among the last remaining civilians in Huriwa neighbourhood who had not already been forced out of their homes by successive waves of violence in recent years.
"The government has vowed to retake the city, rebels are going to stick to their bastions and the civilians are going to be the only victims, as always bearing the brunt of the war," he said.
Like hundreds of residents in recent days, Abdullahi is joining the hundreds of thousands of Somalis displaced by fighting in Mogadishu and now settled in camps in the "Afgoye corridor," on the outskirts of the capital.
The Somali capital is the scene of almost daily violence, often pitting Shebab Islamist insurgents against the forces of the transitional federal government (TFG) and the African Union mission (AMISOM).
The embattled administration of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has long promised a major military push to reclaim southern and central Somalia from insurgents who launched their own bid to topple him in May last year.
Amino Sheikh Ali, a mother of six, fled the same northern Huriwa neighbourhood in 2007, when invading Ethiopian troops arrived, sparking violent resistance from Islamist rebels.
"We returned … following the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces (in January 2009) but we were never able to live peacefully," she said.
This time Amino Sheikh Ali said she would not go back to the overcrowded camps in the Afgoye corridor and would try to find a district of Mogadishu spared by the fighting.
"We left our house yesterday because we are so scared of the recent war preparations," she said, moving towards the calmer southern Waberi district, carrying her bundles and bales, children in tow.
The UN\’s refugee agency is already struggling to assist the million people displaced in 2007 and the quarter million who have been displaced since May.
"Somalia is one of the conflicts that generates the highest number of displaced in the world. When we think the situation is bad, it always gets worse," said UNHCR spokeswoman Roberta Russo.
Mogadishu residents are resilient but many fear the violence of the TFG\’s offensive will be unprecedented.
"Well and freshly trained Somali forces are being deployed on several frontlines in Mogadishu to replace their comrades who have been there in the past years," Abdirasak Qeylow, a senior army officer, told AFP.
"This war will be the last one, to clean the terrorists out of the capital," he added. "This time we are confident we will defeat them."
The insurgents dismissed the government\’s tough talk as empty threats.
"They always vow to wage the final battle against us and they never win … They will regret it if they attack us," Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage said at a recent press conference.
But residents were taking no chances and the towns on the edge of greater Mogadishu, already bursting with displaced populations, were readying for a new influx of homeless families.
"There are hundreds of people reaching around Elashabiyaha and Lafole every week. Most of them are coming from Suqaholaha, Huriwa, Yaqshid and Hamarjadid neighbourhoods," Abduweli Ugas, an elder in Elashabiyaha, said.
Mohamed Gobe, a grocer, fled his home in the Suqbaad neighbourhood this week for a sixth time and he has no hope that a fresh military operation can bring about change.
"We know that war never brings lasting solutions to this country\’s problems. Those war games only raise the number of civilian casualties and nobody is going to win this conflict."