ITALY sought a cease-fire yesterday between the Somali government and rebel forces to evacuate foreigners endangered by fierce fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. Forces loyal to Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre were reported still battling rebels trying to end his 21-year rule.
``The embassy in Mogadishu is in contact with all parties to try to arrange a brief cease-fire,'' an Italian Embassy official in Nairobi told Reuters.
Telephone and telex links with the capital were cut, and it was unclear who had the upper hand, as Mr. Siad Barre fought to retain power against an offensive by rebels of the United Somali Congress (USC).
``Our first priority is to evacuate as soon as possible the 400 Italians in Somalia,'' said the embassy official, adding that Italy would also help around 100 other Westerners, mostly Americans, leave.
The USC said Tuesday its forces had overrun most of the capital and cornered the president in an underground bunker near the airport.
Despite rebel claims to have taken the radio station, the government continued Tuesday evening with patriotic songs and an appeal from Prime Minister Mohamed Hawadle Madar to Somalis to keep the peace.
Italy and Egypt have been trying to broker peace talks between the government, the USC, and four other rebel groups, linked together since August in a loose anti-Siad-Barre alliance.
Rebels already controlled vast areas of the Somali interior before they began infiltrating Mogadishu last month. Their military campaign against Siad Barre began in 1988.
Somali Foreign Minister Ahmad Mohammed Aden told the British Broadcasting Corporation that fighting was restricted to one or two areas of the capital and Somali security forces were in control. The government, he said, was in no danger.
Ten members of the United Nations Development Program flew into Nairobi, but they were reluctant to talk about the situation they left behind.
``We still have people in there and their lives are in real danger,'' said one of the evacuees, who asked not to be named.
Jean-Jacques Graisse, UNDP's representative in Nairobi, said the airport was still in government hands.