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A painfully familiar scene unfolded in Mogadishu, Somalia last week. Somalis triumphantly dragged the body of a dead Ethiopian soldier in the street. The scene recalled was to become known as the Black Hawk Down incident of 1993, when the bodies of dead U.S. troops met the same faith. The circumstances of last week's scene are significantly different than they were 14 years ago. But the outcome so far appears just as wretched. Somalia again has become almost too torn to save the living or respect the dead.
NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Giuseppe Angelini is one of the heads of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid arm. He and a colleague are just back to Nairobi from Mogadishu, a city so divided and violent that fewer and fewer people are willing to risk their lives to report the story. The story that he and other humanitarian aid groups tell resists hard facts and figures, because in Somalia, the situation is as fluid as running water. But from where the crow flies, Mogadishu is emptying out.
Mr. GIUSEPPE ANGELINI (Head, European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office): We saw in Mogadishu still yesterday people organized in minibuses trying to leave the city. Difficult to identify them, in most cases, who they are. There was no single person we talked to who had not personal story to tell.
THOMPKINS: International aid groups' estimate that since the beginning of the year, two-thirds of Mogadishu's population has cleared out of the city, including about 90,000 people a little over a week ago and an additional 45,000 last weekend. That's because the fight for control of Somalia's capital is now fully inflamed. The combined forces of the country's transitional government and Ethiopian troops are in a shoot-out with remnants of the Islamist movement that once controlled the city.
Those loyal to the Islamic Court's Union, as it was known, are believed to have killed an Ethiopian soldier last week and dragged his body in the street. The violence that has followed has left bodies strewn on lonely thoroughfares and townspeople scrambling to avoid the crossfire. But so many get caught.
And the European Commission's Aadrian Sullivan brought back the pictures to prove it. But he tells the story better than the pictures do.
Mr. AADRIAN SULLIVAN (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office): Here we have a young boy. He's 4 years old. Sorry. He was playing with four other friends. An ArmaLite went off. Four of them died. He's the only survivor. All the flesh on a leg has been blown away, and he's damaged his eye. He's going to survive. Such a situation there.
THOMPKINS: All the people heading out of town are squeezing in with family or clan members in other communities and are at the mercy of international aid groups.
Graham Davison directs operations for World Vision in Somalia. His organization is not represented in Mogadishu. They're in the central and southern parts of the country. But apparently, Mogadishu is coming to them - by the busload.
Mr. GRAHAM DAVISON (Operations Director for Somalia, World Vision): Many of the people that have arrived from the current fighting in Mogadishu are currently staying with relatives, relatives who already have issues with lack of food, water, sanitation. So, I mean, it combines the already existing issues that we're dealing with in that particular area. I'm also saying that there are many people that are perhaps heading towards the Kenyan border.
THOMPKINS: Which as been closed for months. But while the transitional government and Ethiopian forces concentrate on winning Mogadishu at any cost, Davison says the Islamic Court's Union or ICU may be making gains elsewhere.
Mr. DAVISON: The fact is that there are small pockets of the ICU that are popping up from place to place.
THOMPKINS: Giuseppe Angelini of the European Commission calls what he saw over the weekend the last episode of a long story. But if that's so, then Somalia may be a story without an ending - just a long fade to black.
Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.
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