NAIROBI, KENYA, JAN. 2 -- Street fighting between rebel forces and troops loyal to President Mohamed Siad Barre flared for a fourth day in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, today, and U.S. and other Western analysts expressed fears that the East African country may be headed for a long period of anarchy.

All public telex and telephone lines between Mogadishu and the outside world remained severed, and confusion and conflict continued to reign with no sign of a clear victor emerging. Both sides in the fighting claimed to control the capital after inflicting heavy casualties.

This evening, Siad Barre issued a radio appeal for a cease-fire and ordered his troops to return to their barracks, according to an unconfirmed report by the British Broadcasting Corp. There was no immediate reply from the rebels, and it remained unclear whether government troops would obey the order.

In Washington, a spokesman for the Somali Embassy said that contrary to press reports, Siad Barre's government is firmly in control of Mogadishu, including the presidential palace, and that the rebels have been dispersed.

"The overall situation {in Mogadishu} is normal," said Abdi A. Jama, the embassy charge d'affaires. "The president is now in his palace. He spoke on the radio. The situation is over now." Jama said the rebels "have been cleared from the whole city. They are no longer there."

The State Department on Tuesday authorized the evacuation of the 37 U.S. government employees and the fewer than 50 other Americans in the capital, effectively allowing the embassy to be closed down, according to deputy spokesman Richard Boucher. "A task force to implement the evacuation and to monitor the situation was convened this morning," he said, and "several plans to facilitate an evacuation are under consideration."

The Italian government announced plans to send four transport planes from Rome to Nairobi in preparation for an evacuation from Mogadishu of 650 Italians, as well as other Westerners, once a truce can be arranged.

An Italian Embassy source in Washington said the Italians also planned to send a warship off Mogadishu "for humanitarian purposes . . . mainly to evacuate the Italians, Europeans and eventually even the Americans." He added that the European Community today appealed for the warring sides to observe a 10-hour cease-fire Thursday but that it had yet not been accepted.

Unconfirmed estimates of civilian and combatant deaths range from 500 to several thousand in the Somali capital. One Westerner said the streets were nearly deserted, although many bodies littered them, and that an atmosphere of "thuggery, of armed robbery" coexisted with the terror of war.

"It's a very fluid, very dangerous situation," said a Western diplomat in contact with the city through his Foreign Ministry. "Things are just completely unraveling."

In communications with embassies here in Nairobi, diplomats based in Somalia described mayhem throughout Mogadishu, with widespread automatic-weapons fire from young men roving the streets in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Despite the account of the embassy in Washington, reports reaching Nairobi said Siad Barre, Somalia's ruler for 21 years, remained in command of his forces at a military airfield several miles south of the city after fleeing his presidential palace Monday.

Western analysts contacted today said the war -- in which several rebel movements based primarily on ethnic or clan affiliations are fighting to topple Siad Barre -- evokes comparisons to the year-long war in the West African country of Liberia.

There, ethnic rivalries and hatreds, stoked during the 10-year reign of Samuel K. Doe, exploded into violence that has claimed at least 5,000 lives.

Hiram Ruiz, a policy analyst with the U.S. Committee for Refugees in Washington, who has long experience in this region, noted that in Somalia, like Liberia, "you have a leader who has divided his country and ruled for a long time by keeping other groups fighting each other. . . . He has ruled oppressively and now all these groups have turned on him."

Just as the Liberian rebels of Charles Taylor had no firm political agenda for their struggle other than Doe's ouster and vengeance against his supporters, the rebels of the United Somali Congress, the Somali National Movement and the Somalia Patriotic Front also appear to have no plan for a future government, if and when they topple Siad Barre, other analysts said.

These rebel groups, which grew in significant strength only during the last three years, are generally made up of the central Hawiye clan, the northern Isaaks and the southern Ogadenis, respectively. Most of their political leaders live in exile, in London and Rome, with little or no direct contact with the largely disorganized insurgents on the ground.

As one analyst put it today, the only ideology guiding the rebels is "Get Siad Barre."

"The trouble . . . is they have no political program," said an official of one Western government. Another Western official said the danger of continuing anarchy may be heightened by the fact that "there is no figure, no counterpart to Siad Barre" among the rebels. "I think you may see a transition that is quite long and quite uncertain," he said.

Siad Barre, the octogenarian ruler who came to power in a 1969 military coup, belongs to a minority group, the Marehan clan, who make up just 1 percent of Somalia's population of 8 million people.

Yet like Doe, who ruled repressively as a member of a minority group, the Krahn, Siad Barre proved adept at juggling the interests of Somalia's principal majority clans while sometimes resorting to ruthless methods to squelch opposition.

"Siad Barre is reaping what his government sowed all these years," said a Western diplomat. "A lot of people in Somalia just can't wait to get back at the Marehan."

Ruiz, however, described the conflict in Somalia as far more complex than it appears. "It's about old grievances between clans, old scores, land rights, waterholes. It's about livestock, trade routes," said Ruiz. "I'm sure there may be a long period of confusion, but conflict in and of itself is not new there."

Analysts said the one key difference between the catastrophe in Liberia and the crisis in Somalia -- and perhaps the latter's salvation -- is that Somalia has a much stronger sense of national identity than its West African counterpart.

Liberians continue to identify themselves by ethnic affiliation rather than nationality. Somalis, by contrast, are one nationality and ethnic group sharing a common language and religion, divided only along clan or extended-family lines.

"Even though these clans have a long history of rivalry, I don't think you are going to see the same level of hatred or potential for atrocity in Somalia as you have in Liberia," said Ruiz. "The culture, the religion, the ties that exist across classes and family . . . make a bloodbath like Liberia unlikely."

Many analysts and diplomats contacted today agreed with this assessment. Said one official based in Nairobi: "At some point, these people will sit down and hammer out a national reconciliation . . . hopefully before too long."