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More than 30 members from Somalia’s civil society including political leaders, business people, religious leaders, women's group, and journalists have gathered for a meeting, organized by Somalia South Central Non-State Actors (SOSCENSA), in Mogadishu on Thursday and demanded that the warring sides establish Bakara Market as a 'no war zone' and ensure that property and goods are not damaged.
The participants focused on the challenges facing Mogadishu's main market after it became the base for the al-Shabaab militant group seeking to control Somalia and now is an epicenter of fighting between the group and the Transitional Federal Government Forces (TFG) of Somalia, supported by African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM).
Members who attended the meeting stated they are deeply worried about continuing clashes making the market vulnerable to looting and violence.
They further underlined how it is essential to protect the goods in Bakara Market and called on both sides to avoid harming the public assets which belong to Somali people.
A/kadir Ibrahim Ga’al Abkow, chairman of the civil society group, spoke to Somalia Report on behalf of the group about their final declaration to safeguard the properties in Bakara Market.
"We are calling and saying to the fighting groups like al-Shabaab, the government and AMISOM to stop destroying the civilian’s assets especially in the Bakara Market. It should be protected immediately," said Abkow.
Victims of Warfare
Several participants of the meeting said that recent shelling by both sides has ruined businesses and greatly affected the ability of locals to buy goods.
"Several telecommunications like Hormuud Telecom have been damaged by the artillery weapons exchanged by the warring sides," Abkow explained.
A female participant also voiced her distraught over the fighting in the market, "I am deeply sorry about the current situation about in Bakara Market. My store is located there and I haven't been able to go there for last 20 days due to the ongoing clashes. My kids are waiting for me to get something to eat and now their condition seems to be worsening," said a mother with 5 kids who came from al-Shabaab controlled Elesha-Biyaha area.
Speaking to Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity, she says that al-Shabaab is behaving badly by forcing business people in the market to pay a limitless amount of money when it is battling against the government. "We fear that if we don't pay and the Somali government pushes them from Bakara market, then we fear if al-Shabaab will finally try to decided to burn it down," she said.
Participants Scared of Retaliation
The participants released their declaration for the TFG and al-Shabaab:
1. The assets at the Bakara Market belonged to Somalis and it must be protected by the same people of Somalia.
2. It has be a 'no war zone' and the warring sides have to remain outside of the market and not should ever fight inside the market.
3. The Somali government must give grantees the safety for the market.
4. Harakat - al-Shabaab has to work give hand on how to protect the Market and properties and recognize the market to remain at No war zone'.
5. All sides like Somali government, AMISOM, Ahlu-sunna and al-shabaab have the responsibility to take care of that market and its assets.
Some business people who came to the meeting from the districts controlled by al-Shabaab told Somalia Report that they refused to be named or photographed for this report for fear of being targeted by Islamist extremists.
“We are justifying that we cannot give journalists for our faces and the full names because we came from Suuqa-Holaha district, which is controlled by al-Shabaab. If they get to know that we spoke about the Suuqa-Bakaraha then we will be harassed or killed by them for this," said a businessman.