Heavy fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents is continuing in Mogadishu for the sixth day, bringing the unofficial death toll to more than 200. Somalia's interim government is urging civilians to vacate areas near insurgent strongholds because it says its Ethiopian-backed forces are preparing to launch another major offensive. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has this report from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Mogadishu residents say the fighting has been so fierce no one has been able to venture out of their homes in some areas of the city. They say entire city blocks in northern and southern Mogadishu have been destroyed amid the nearly constant exchange of artillery, tank fire, and mortars.
Countless bodies of civilians, insurgents, Somali, and Ethiopian soldiers killed in the violence are rotting in the streets. Families with wounded relatives tell VOA they cannot reach hospitals because there is no safe passage through many of the neighborhoods.
Somalia's Ethiopian-backed transitional government has struggled to gain control of Mogadishu since it took power from Somali Islamists four months ago.
Far from being conciliatory to insurgent demands of an immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from the capital, the government says there will be no cease-fire until the city is free of insurgents, whom it says are allied with the al-Qaida terrorist network.
The government's Interior Minister Mohamed Mahmud Gama Dhere tells VOA that a fresh, Ethiopian-led offensive will soon begin to wipe out the insurgency once and for all. He says residents living in or near insurgent strongholds are being urged to move to safer areas.
"We believe only al-Qaida is fighting against the government," he said. "To avoid that they use the people as shields, we want the residents of the area where al-Qaida group is operating to at least temporarily move to the neighboring area. We want to have minimum casualties."
Four days of fighting earlier this month claimed as many as 1,000 lives. The United Nations says more than 300,000 of Mogadishu's two-million residents have fled. Many of them are now camped outside the city in squalid conditions with little food.
Those who remain in Mogadishu blame Ethiopians and insurgents for the rising civilian death toll. They say both sides are firing indiscriminately into neighborhoods, without regard for the people living there.
Residents also dispute the government's claim that only radical Islamists make up the insurgency. They say the insurgency is much more complex, involving clan-based insurgents, as well as ordinary people who simply oppose the government and the presence of Ethiopians on Somali soil.