October 30, 2007 / 1:50 PM / 11 years ago

Weekend fighting drove 36,000 from Somali capital-UN

GENEVA, Oct 30 (Reuters) - About 36,000 Somalis have fled Mogadishu after weekend fighting, the worst in months between Ethiopian troops backing the interim government and Islamist-led rebels, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Most of the displaced headed for the town of Afgooye, 30 km (18 miles) to the west, which is already struggling to cope with 100,000 people who left the capital earlier this year, it said.

"After a weekend of violence in Mogadishu there has been another wave of displacement from the capital, with about 36,000 more Somalis fleeing from their homes," spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Aid workers described the fighting as "the worst in months," but the situation appeared to have calmed down since, she told a news briefing in Geneva.

Many people leaving the capital with their household goods piled on trucks, buses and donkey carts had expressed fear that the violence could escalate into major battles in the city.

"They said that insurgents had begun attacking police stations and military bases in broad daylight," Pagonis said.

The fragile Somali government, which has U.N. backing, has been shaken by an insurgency of Iraq-style roadside bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks since it routed a hardline Islamist movement in January with the help of Ethiopian tanks and warplanes.

An estimated 400,000 Somalis fled Mogadishu by May, of whom about 125,000 later returned to the coastal city. But renewed violence sparked a new wave of departures in June, with an estimated 90,000 people fleeing, according to the UNHCR.

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