Residents in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, say the city is on the brink of starvation and economic collapse, following what they describe as a massive looting spree of the city's main Bakara market by government forces loyal to the country's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Somalia's interim Prime Minister Nur Adde Hassan Hussein surprised many Somalis on Monday by publicly admitting that government troops took part in the wholesale looting of Bakara market in recent days.
The prime minister apologized for the soldiers' misconduct and promised that they would be punished.
According to Mogadishu resident Mahmud Hassan and several other reliable VOA sources in Mogadishu, punishing the soldiers would require the cooperation of President Yusuf. Hassan and the others say it was soldiers from the president's Darod clan who looted and destroyed the market, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the city with no source of income and no place to buy basic goods.
"Bakara market has been looted by Abdullahi Yusuf's clan from Puntland. There is no commerce. There is no business," he said. "The largest market in Somalia is closed. Now, food is sold in back alleys and inflation is over 300 percent. I would not be surprised if you see a human catastrophe in Mogadishu within the next two weeks if things continue like this."
Since an Ethiopia-led military campaign ousted Somali Islamists from power in Mogadishu 14 months ago, Islamist-led groups waging a violent anti-government insurgency in the capital have been accused of using Bakara market's crowded streets and narrow alleys to launch attacks against Ethiopian and government troops and to hide from them among civilians.
The government has conducted numerous security sweeps through Bakara market and elsewhere in Mogadishu, triggering battles that have killed thousands of people and have caused more than one million others to flee their homes.
Government troops taking part in security operations have been frequently accused of looting goods and private property. But aid workers in the capital tell VOA that it has never before taken place on such a huge scale.
President Yusuf has not commented on the accusations against his soldiers and it is far from clear whether he had any knowledge of their actions in Bakara market. But the reports have nonetheless convinced many Somalis in Mogadishu that the president is following a plan to destroy the clan that currently dominates in the capital, the Hawiye, and give power to his Darod clan.
A prominent Hawiye political leader, Mohamed Uluso, insists that troops loyal to Somalia's transitional federal government are now largely made up of Darod soldiers from Puntland, who take orders directly from President Yusuf.
"The view is that the destruction of Bakara market will complete the submission and surrender of the Hawiye to the personal rule of President Yusuf," he said.
Clan divisions have sunk 13 previous attempts by the international community to form a central government in Somalia since the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre's regime in 1991.