By Sahal Abdulle
MOGADISHU, April 4 (Reuters) - Workers carried the dead from from the rubble of battle in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, moving amid fighters observing a ceasefire residents say is so tenuous many are gathering their belongings to leave.
In a third day of a truce after some of heaviest fighting in the coastal capital in 15 years, Ethiopian and Somali government troops faced off less than 20 metres (66 feet) away from insurgents belonging to the dominant Hawiye clan and a defeated militant Islamist group.
Four workers, helped by the Red Crescent society, dredged through the wreckage of the four-day battle under a deal between the Hawiye and the Ethiopians to end the fighting that killed at least 400 people and allow for the recovery of corpses.
"We found one body at the gate of Mogadishu Stadium, and then we moved on and found more bodies. At the end, we collected 25 bodies," witness Abdi Dhaqane Iye said.
The dead included women, children and the elderly. Those charged with the grim task said they expected to find more. One old man lay in the road, his body crushed and branded with the mark of tank tread.
"If you had been there, you would not eat food for the next three days. The smell was overwhelming," Iye said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the wounded numbered nearly 900, and the toll may be higher because many had not reached the hospital. The humanitarian group said it planned to start re-supplying hospitals on Thursday.
International diplomats meeting under the auspices of the International Contact Group on Somalia late on Tuesday urged a comprehensive ceasefire to stop the bloodshed, and also pressed the government to carry out an inclusive reconciliation.
President Abdullahi Yusuf’s interim government is due to hold a national reconciliation conference in Mogadishu on April 16, but many doubt it will go ahead because of insecurity.
His administration is the 14th attempt at imposing central rule on the Horn of Africa nation, in anarchy since warlords including Yusuf helped topple Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
"DON’T TRUST TRUCE"
Residents by the hundreds raced into their homes to take advantage of the lull in the fighting which shattered whole neighbourhoods with indiscriminate tank, rocket and artillery fire, and drew international condemnation.
The joint Ethiopian-Somali interim government offensive was intended to wipe out an insurgency that has targeted them and rocked the city with almost daily attacks since a hardline Islamist movement was ousted in a war over the New Year.
At least 100,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February.
"I went back this morning and collected what was remaining at my home. I don’t trust the truce. The fighting might start at any minute," trader Dahir Ali, 45, told Reuters as he raced to get out with hundreds of other residents.
The exodus of refugees has strained limited resources in the places where the fleeing have landed, and aid groups fear clashes could erupt over food, water and housing — prices for all of which have skyrocketed.
Even in Mogadishu, people complained of higher prices and extortion. The price of a litre of gasoline had almost tripled to 28,000 Somali shillings ($1.71) after the fighting ended on Sunday, residents said.
Truckers who keep their vehicles in a garage in one of the pro-insurgent neighbourhoods complained of having to pay government soldiers bribes.
"We had to pay 500,000 shillings to get the trucks out because we couldn’t get them during the fighting," Abdisalan Yusuf Osman, 40, said, adding that the two AK-47 assault rifles he keeps in the cab were also taken. (Additional reporting by Richard Waddington in Geneva)