UN: Somalis scramble to escape fighting in capital that has killed 230 in 2 weeks

KAKUMA, Kenya (AP) — Fighting in the Somali capital has killed more than 230 people in the past two weeks and fleeing civilians are so desperate they are giving away their last possessions for seats on a bus out of the city, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

The continuous fighting started Aug. 23 after the militant group al-Shabab threatened a "massive" war against government forces, who are backed by African Union peacekeepers.

The U.N. says some 230 people have been killed, 400 wounded and at least 23,000 displaced since fighting began and that civilians who remained were too frightened to venture out for food.

On Tuesday, three civilians were killed in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu and 23 others were wounded, said ambulance service director Ali Muse.

Somalia has not had an effective government for nearly 20 years. Militants, some of whom have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, are trying to overthrow Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed government and install a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. The conflict is also complicated by clan rivalries.

"My appeal to the international community is not to send Somalis back to south and central Somalia against their will," said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, who was beginning a three-day tour of refugee camps in northern Kenya.

He did not say which countries were sending Somali refugees back or how many, but Kenyan security services sometimes deport Somalis back across the border.

Somalia generates the largest number of refugees in the world after Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of August, there were more than 1.4 million Somalis displaced within the country and more than 614,000 Somali refugees.

Among them was Asha Mohamed Nur, who fled with her three children in June after an explosion caused by a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed her home, killed her husband and severely burned her leg.

"There is all the time fighting. Hizbul Islam, al-Shabab, government, they are all fighting," she said, naming the two main insurgent factions. "Nowhere is safe, not even your home."

More than 200,000 Somalis are estimated to have fled their homes this year. Others, though, say they have nowhere safer to go.

"I fled from Mogadishu two times before — my children were almost dying without water and food plus the wind, rain, sun and dust since we did not have a shelter," said Mohamud Ali, a father of seven who lives in Howlwadag district south of the city. "I finally came back to my house waiting my destiny."

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Associated Press Writers Mohamed Olad Hassan and Mohamed Sheik Nor in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.