Somalia: A Very Private War

With the world otherwise occupied, rebel armies seize the capital, at least 500 die, and the country sinks into anarchy

Bodies littered the streets of Mogadishu, and artillery blasts rattled its shuttered buildings. Automatic gunfire was almost continuous around the presidential palace. Crowded hospitals in the capital were without water or food. Foreign embassy staffs took cover inside their locked compounds. Ringed by tanks and the remnants of his army, Somalia's octogenarian President, Mohammed Siad Barre, held out in an underground bunker at a military air base south of the city.

Another African state was lurching into anarchy last week. The disintegration of order and government in Somalia looked like an agonizing replay of the collapse of Liberia last year. Almost...

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