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Internet lifeline cut in Mogadishu

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(IRIN) Telecommunications companies based in Somalia's largest open air market have been hit by stray shells in the latest round of fighting, leading to internet failure in the past four days.

"Our internet service has been down since 24 May," a senior official of an internet service provider, who requested anonymity, told IRIN on 26 May.

The official said many people's livelihoods depend on internet use; "for many businesses and journalists, the internet is their lifeline".

He said his company was trying to revive the service. "We depend on the telecoms companies and when they get hit we are also hit."

A local radio journalist told IRIN he was unable to send his reports to his station based outside the country. "It is very frustrating."

The three major telecommunications companies, Nationlink, Hormood and Olympic, have their most important equipment at Bakara market, which has been a flashpoint in the fighting between insurgents and government troops backed by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers in the past two weeks.

"When we were setting up, in the 1990s, Bakara market was the safest place but now it is the most dangerous," another official of a telecommunications company said.

The official told IRIN the headquarters of Hormood - the largest telecommunications firm in the country - in Bakara had been repeatedly hit by shells, killing and injuring staff and destroying equipment.

"It is not easy for us to move the equipment we have here, so we are caught in the middle of a war zone," the official said.

In the past eight days, government and AMISOM troops have intensified an offensive to dislodge Al-Shabab insurgents who control Bakara market and parts of the city.

AMISOM spokesman Maj Paddy Ankunda told IRIN on 27 May that the mission was urging civilians not to expose themselves to crossfire.

"We have secured the road nearest Bakara as well as the southern and western edges of the market; I cannot put a time tag on how long the fighting will go on but we are urging civilians to get out of entanglement [in the fighting] as they will become increasingly vulnerable," Ankunda said.

"About 80 percent of civilians [in Al-Shabab-held areas] have left for areas controlled by the government because of insecurity; if Al-Shabab chooses to continue fighting, they will bear the responsibility for the damage caused to Bakara market," Ankunda said.

Appeal for help

The Hormood official said business people in Bakara had appealed to the government to save what was left of the market.

"We can talk to the government but we cannot talk to the insurgents," the official said.

However, another businessman who has operations in Bakara told IRIN he supported the continuation of the offensive against Al-Shabab.

"They [government forces and AMISOM] are making progress and are close to the market; they should continue until they dislodge Al-Shabab," the businessman said.

He said many other business people were in favour of the offensive even though they would not admit it: "We are all aware of the cost and I am sure once this is over we will recover but they [Al-Shabab] must be eliminated at any cost."

Traders have been leaving the market due to the intense fighting and have moved their wares to other parts of the city, a local journalist said.

"Most of the people have left the market; only those who could not leave like these big telecom companies are still there," the journalist, who declined to be named, said.

However, the majority affected are poor civilians who buy what they need on a daily basis, the journalist added. "They don't have the means to buy in bulk and store at home."

This article was originally published by the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the humanitarian news and analysis service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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Tags: Somalia