MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – Somali and Ethiopian troops have ordered thousands to vacate their homes in Somalia’s capital to allow the forces to search for arms and insurgents, a local human rights group said Saturday.

The order was issued Thursday after an insurgent attack earlier in the week against a government base, said Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of the independent group Elman Human Rights.

Government officials declined to comment on the reported evictions from Mogadishu. Ahmed said most of those evicted had either left the city or sought refuge with relatives or friends elsewhere in Mogadishu.

“I cannot give you precise numbers of displaced people, but I believe they are in the thousands, and they were forced by Ethiopian and Somali troops to vacate their homes,” Ahmed told The Associated Press, basing the figures on interviews conducted with residents.

The evictions this week were the first reported since April, when hundreds died in heavy fighting in Mogadishu, Ahmed said.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on each other.

The current government, formed in 2004, has struggled to assert control.

A radical Islamic group ruled the capital and much of southern Somalia for six months last year, but was kicked out by Ethiopian troops who support the government.

Since then, insurgents and government-allied troops have battled nearly every day, and thousands of civilians have been killed this year alone in Mogadishu.

Asha Ali Jimuale, a mother of seven from northern Mogadishu, told the AP that soldiers had ordered her to leave her home, and warned that insurgents could use those who stayed behind as human shields.

Ahmed said that when insurgents attack government positions, “the Ethiopians and government troops launch security operations, and the Islamists go to residential areas to use civilians as a shield.”

He condemned both sides.

“They do not care about the lives of the civilians,” Ahmed said.

On Friday, the U.N. refugee agency said its staff reported that Mogadishu was divided in two – the deserted north, and a calm south.

“The streets of northern Mogadishu are so empty during the day … literally only a handful of people can be seen,” the agency said in a statement. The capital’s main market, Bakara, was barely functioning due to “fighting, assassinations and killings linked to robbery,” it said.

It also said inflation was running high, with prices for staple items tripling over the past two months and counterfeit money available everywhere.

Meanwhile, there has been almost daily violence in the capital. Witnesses and police said insurgents attacked a police station late Friday in southern Mogadishu, and two soldiers and three civilians were killed.

“The police station was briefly taken by the attackers, after forcing government soldiers to flee,” witness Hassan Odawa said. “They also set free all the prisoners in jail,” and burned the station and a government house.

Cpl. Mohamed Iidle said the insurgents attacked his station, and police killed several of them, but he did not give any other details.

Madahey Barkhad said police had killed his two brothers without reason during the attack.

“My brothers were deliberately killed by Somali police as they were in front of their home. I don’t know why they kill innocents like my brothers,” said Barkhad, screaming.

Associated Press writer Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed to this report.

AP-ES-09-29-07 1910EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.