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Somali businesses warily return to war-hit market after months of bloody battles

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Somali businesses warily return to war-hit market after months of bloody battles Powered By Docstoc
					The car-sized shell hole in the Hotel Fardoow’s second floor may deter
some guests, but business is now returning warily to Mogadishu’s
commercial heart after months of bloody battles.

“Things were bad here, and the fighting was too heavy,” said Abdi Ali
Nur, a store owner next to the hotel in Bakara, the sprawling network of
narrow streets that make up the war-torn Somali capital’s largest and
most important market.

“Everything had to close,” added Mr. Nur, who returned last week for the
first time in six months to survey the damage to his store, after fleeing
an offensive by African Union-backed Somali government troops against
Islamist rebels.

Bakara was for many months the epicenter of violence in one of the
world’s most dangerous capitals, forcing people to flee and to shut or
relocate their business.

A ripped corrugated iron roofing sheet from his store gently creaks in
the warm breeze from off the Indian Ocean, glittering deep blue in the
distance.

“God willing, the businesses will be soon able to return,” Mr. Nur said,
adding that his store selling soft drinks had not been ransacked by
rebels while he was away.

Effective control of a resurgent Bakara would be a major achievement for
the weak Western-backed transitional government, which is slowly trying
to impose its control over the famine-struck city.

Bakara was, until a surprise pullout earlier this month, a key stronghold
of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab rebels, netting the insurgents up to
$60 million a year, according to a recent UN report.

Business people are scouting out the chances of opening up again, but
almost all shops--including stores selling electronic goods to
restaurants and money exchange bureaus--remain boarded up.

“Bakara was the market where the Shabaab were making money from, that
sustained their operations for all these years,” said Paddy Ankunda, a
spokesman for the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Piles of sandbags blocking streets mark the slow progress of AMISOM
troops into the area, while deep ditches dug into the roads show Shabaab
defenses.

Some buildings are almost entirely flattened, while remaining walls are
pockmarked with bullet holes.

“The Shabaab ran away from it, they couldn’t stand and fight to defend
it,” added Ankunda. “I don’t think they can take it back.”
Opening up Mogadishu’s markets could also boost the economy and help ease
soaring food prices, currently pricing out starving thousands braving
violence in Mogadishu in a desperate search for aid.

Some 3.2 million people in Somalia need urgent “lifesaving assistance”
due to drought and insecurity, the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs has warned.

But while Barkara may no longer be a daily frontline, tensions remain
high.

Businessmen there are reluctant to talk, saying they are fearful of
reprisal by remaining Shabaab insurgents.

Despite abandoning permanent street positions, the rebels said they
changed military tactics that many fear will mean guerrilla or terrorist-
style attacks.

“The Shabaab are still around,” said one businessman, visiting Bakara to
check on his store. “It is quiet now but we don't know what may happen.”

A distant rattle of gunfire echoes in the street.

“We want to open the businesses, but things are still not certain,” said
another.

At the weekend, the AU troops said they found 137 artillery shells at a
disused house in Bakara, which the force's spokesman said were stockpiled
for use in making improvised bombs, as insurgents do not have weapons to
fire them.

But a thumping engine sound of a generator in the network of streets
suggests that others too are slowly moving back into Bakara.

For those fleeing into the city in hope of food and support, any
potential improvements in the security situation is welcomed.

“We have nothing,” said Huwa Moalim, who fled the famine-hit Lower
Shabelle region, travelling for six days to reach the over-crowded camps
of makeshift tents springing up in bombed out parts of the city.

“I have no money left to buy food from the markets, it is all too
expensive,” she added, cradling her crying baby son.