Hundreds of foreigners fleeing fighting in Somalia landed safely in Kenya on Monday, and rebels trying to topple the government said they expected to win control of the capital city, Mogadishu, soon.
Chaotic conditions were reported in Mogadishu, where President Mohamed Siad Barre's government has been under rebel siege for a week. Siad Barre's family fled to the United Arab Emirates, according to diplomatic sources.The diplomatic sources in the United Arab Emirates had earlier said Siad Barre himself was aboard a plane that landed in Abu Dhabi but later said it was unclear whether he was among the approximately 70 people aboard.
The oil-rich United Arab Emirates has been a financial supporter of Somalia. Both countries are members of the Arab League.
The rebels in Somalia repeatedly have rejected calls for negotiations, saying they preferred to use force to end Siad Barre's 21-year rule of this Horn of Africa nation of 8 million people.
In Mogadishu, a statement by Siad Barre was aired Monday evening on state-run radio, urging all opposition groups to join in peace talks in the capital under Italian and Egyptian mediation.
However, the three-minute broadcast, monitored in Nairobi, was identical to an appeal Siad Barre made last week, suggesting it may have been pre-recorded. Until the address, the radio had been off the air since Saturday.
In a statement issued Monday in Rome, rebel United Somali Congress spokesman Abdirahem Mohammed said the rebels could win control of Mogadishu "within hours, maybe late in the night."
He said rebel forces had captured the commander of anti-aircraft batteries in the capital and that the area controlled by the government was "getting smaller and smaller."
In an earlier communique, also issued in Rome, rebel spokesman Abdulcadir Mohammed Abdulle said soldiers loyal to Siad Barre were fleeing the city, sacking as they went, and robbing people of food and cars.
Italy has been closely involved because Somalia was created in July 1960 in a merger of the British Somaliland Protectorate and the Italian Trusteeship Territory of Somalia.