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18,000 Flee Mogadishu in August, 50,000 since June

UN officials say 18,000 people fled the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last month, bringing the number to 50,000 since June. They say fighting in certain districts of the city is the reason people are leaving for the surrounding areas.

One of those following developments in Somalia is Professor David Shinn of George Washington University. Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia, talks to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the latest exodus of people from Mogadishu.

“Clearly this is a temporary setback. But I think it’s important to put it in the context of what has been happening over the last six months to 12 months, where you had periods of significant departures from the Mogadishu area to either the outskirts of town or even further away. But then you’ve had periods where some would come back. So there’s a certain amount of movement going both directions. And one would have to know how many returned in the previous three or four months in order to know how meaningful it is that this additional number has left in August,” he says.

Does this mean Mogadishu residents are creating permanent suburbs around the capital? Shinn says, “I believe that a number of them have in effect been outside the most threatened parts of Mogadishu for an extended period of time. And therefore you could argue that they have already constituted something of a suburb. It’s my understanding that there are certain parts of Mogadishu that are much less safe than others. And I think there are parts of the city where there has been very little movement out. But in the more volatile areas, it has been movement out. Sometimes back in and then out again.”

The six-week long reconciliation conference recently ended in Somalia. Shinn says, “The fact that it took place at all was something of a success. But I saw very little come out of it that will change the situation on the ground in Mogadishu. I think there were far too many key players who did not participate in it. And the Transitional Federal Government still has a long way to go to create a body of support that will allow it to govern effectively throughout the country.”

The former ambassador says that right now it appears Ethiopia plans to keep its troops in Somalia for the long haul. But he says it’s a very expensive operation, which may have to be reconsidered if there’s no political solution.