MOGADISHU, Somalia – Residents in Somalia's capital have feared a threatened increase in fighting during Ramadan, but the Muslim religious month has brought another hardship as well: high food prices.
Somali businessmen on Monday said prices of some food items in Mogadishu have increased by up to 50 percent since the holy month of Ramadan began in this predominantly Muslim city.
Fighting flared in the capital, meanwhile, and shelling between al-Qaida-linked insurgents and government and African Union forces killed at least 10 people and wounded 25 Monday, said Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service.
Many traders fled Mogadishu after Islamic militants said last week that they would increase their attacks on government and AU troops during the Muslim holy month, which began last week.
As the Muslim world observes the holiday devoted to prayer and dawn-to-dusk fasting, Somalis in the capital say they feel left out of the goodwill and charity that are supposed to mark the holiday.
"If there is peace today I do not mind hunger because I will wait to eat the next day. But if there is war, what can I expect? Only death or shock," said Asha Abdulle, a mother of two who begs in Mogadishu streets.
The traders who stayed behind have also taken advantage of decreased competition by raising prices.
"Food items are scare in the markets because the traders have either left or halted importing food, fearing that fighting might increase," said Ali Dahir, a businessman who imports sugar.
Food prices typically rise around the Muslim world during Ramadan, though unlike in Somalia it is often a supply and demand issue and not one of warfare. Mohamud Aden, who owns a butcher shop in Mogadishu, said he is selling a kilogram of meat for $3, up from $2 before Ramadan began.
"There are two reasons: The demand of meat is high during Ramadan and the second is that the traders who sell cows and camels have raised their prices," Aden said.
In Afghanistan, shopkeeper Mohammad Doud said a can of cooking oil that used to sell for $5 now sells for more than $6, and that a large bag of floor that was $18 has increased to $24.
Doud said he thinks recent flooding in Pakistan has increased prices in neighboring Afghanistan, because the country imports flour, cooking oil and other necessities from Pakistan.
Ahmed Reda, a 35-year-old resident of Cairo, said prices always rise ahead of Ramadan, partially because traders take advantage and because families shop for food "blindly." The father of two said meat prices have gone up about 10 percent.
"During holidays and special occasions, things become more expensive," Reda, a government official, said. "People are also shopping with a blindfold on. They think they need all these things and more during Ramadan. You would think there is a famine approaching when you visit the supermarket days before Ramadan."
Mogadishu residents said the price increases on basic items such as milk, tomatoes and onions has only exacerbated a bad situation during Ramadan.
Residents reported that last Friday hundreds of militants in big trucks entered Mogadishu from other parts of southern Somalia following calls of their leaders to take the battle to the weak, U.N.-backed government.
In Monday's battle, a shell from the insurgent side landed in a camp for internally displaced Somalis. Abdifitah Ali, a resident of the camp, told The Associated Press that three people in the camp were killed.
"We kept hiding under the concrete buildings in our village for several hours because the shelling was untargeted and rained on to the residential areas," said Osman Elmi, another witness.
Mogadishu sees near daily fighting between Islamic insurgents and government soldiers and Africa Union peacekeepers. The city has been the epicenter of Somalia's 19 years of anarchy and chaos and in recent years hundreds of thousands of residents have fled fighting here.
The al-Qaida linked militant group al-Shabab is fighting to dislodge Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed's government, which is backed by a more than 5,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.
Associated Press reporters Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu, Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.