Rebels in Somalia said today they control most of the capital of Mogadishu and President Mohamed Siad Barre was at the airport preparing to flee the country.
"I think he will be gone in the next 24 hours," said a spokesman for the United Somali Congress, one of the main rebel groups fighting to overthrow Maj. Gen. Siad Barre, who has been in power since 1969.
"We now control 99% of Mogadishu," the congress spokesman, contacted in Rome by telephone from Nairobi, told Reuters.
The spokesman said that the United Somali Congress began taking control of Mogadishu on Sunday morning.
"From yesterday evening many of the army people had retreated to their camps, and there is fighting going on around the camps, mainly in the south of the city," the spokesman said, adding there was also fighting around the president's palace and the airport.
He said Siad Barre had left the presidential palace early today.
"We don't know which country he will go to but he is certainly preparing to leave," the spokesman said.
The spokesman said as soon as Siad Barre has left, the congress plans to call in other rebel groups and political opposition organizations to cooperate on forming a transitional government.
Residents in Mogadishu said fighting, especially heavy Saturday night, continued today in many parts of the capital.
There has been an upsurge of violence in recent weeks in the capital. The United Somali Congress and another major rebel group, the Somali National Movement, said in August they would cooperate on trying to overthrow Siad Barre.
The rebels rejected as mere cosmetics his recent efforts to liberalize one-party rule--in force since he came to power in a coup--and to call in opposition groups for peace talks.