Somali Group: 5,960 Killed This Year

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Violence in Somalia's war-ravaged capital has killed 5,960 civilians this year, a human rights group said Sunday.

Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of Somalia's Elman Human Rights, also said 7,980 people were wounded and more than 700,000 displaced from their homes as the government has struggled to contain a bloody Islamic insurgency.

An accurate tally is nearly impossible to come by in Mogadishu, one of the most violent and lawless cities in the world. During some of the heaviest fighting this year, witnesses said bodies were not being picked up or even counted. And the few aid groups braving the capital do not have the tools to perform a reliable count.

Elman, the country's oldest human rights group, releases monthly reports and has been tallying the death toll in secret after the mayor of Mogadishu banned the organization in October. The group says it collects figures from hospitals, local residents and its own recording of burials in Mogadishu.

"Our staff members are collecting figures and facts about human rights abuses by visiting residential areas and medical centers," Ahmed told The Associated Press by telephone Sunday from an undisclosed location.

Government officials, who have accused Elman of exaggerating death tolls, were not immediately available for comment.

Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Dheere ordered the independent Somali group to close its offices on Oct. 8. Ahmed said his group was accused of spreading "exaggerated and false information" about the country's fragile government.

Dheere could not immediately be reached for comment as his cell phone went unanswered.

Elman Human Rights has 116 staff across the country. The group has tracked the killings of civilians during Mogadishu's near-daily violence this year and has also reported on violations in recent years.

Several human rights groups have accused the government, insurgents and Ethiopian troops of committing abuses.

Ethiopia came to the aid of Somalia's government in December to rout the Council of Islamic Courts militia. The Islamic group's fighters then threatened an Iraq-style insurgency, and thousands of Mogadishu residents have been killed this year in gunbattles, grenade and mortar attacks.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since a group of warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned their heavily armed supporters on each other.