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As civilians flee Somalia’s capital, Ban Ki-moon calls for immediate end to fighting

As civilians flee Somalia’s capital, Ban Ki-moon calls for immediate end to fighting

Displaced arrive in Galkayo after  exhausting drive
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on all sides in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, to put an immediate end to the fighting as the United Nations refugee agency reported that over 12,000 people had fled the strife-torn city in just the last week, bringing the total since the beginning of February to 57,000.

In a statement issued by spokesperson Mr. Ban said he was “particularly concerned about the use of air strikes and the introduction of tanks and heavy artillery into densely populated parts of the city, further increasing the security threat to large numbers of civilians.

“This is a dangerous and troubling new development that has the potential to unravel the peace process,” the statement added, stressing that sustainable peace can only be attained through inclusive dialogue leading to a political solution and national reconciliation.

Violence in the capital has increased since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country at the end of last year. Mortar rounds and other fire have since killed many civilians in residential areas and settlements housing 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“They are hungry and face harassment from thugs, while the mothers worry about their children not being able to go to school,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a news release on the latest exodus. “Those who can afford it are looking for a house to rent, but most shelter under trees.”

UNHCR’s local partners said they saw hundreds of people waiting anxiously during the weekend in crowded bus stations or searching for truck drivers to take them out of the city. Others packed their meagre belongings onto donkey-drawn carts and headed for safety.

The TFG told civilians to leave certain areas, apparently so that it could step up its offensive against the insurgents. Most people have headed south to the neighbouring Shabelle Hoose (Lower Shabelle) region, according to UNHCR’s local partners. Many are destitute women and children who lack clan support and access to humanitarian aid, including treatment for prevalent health problems such as diarrhoea.

Since the beginning of March, 2,250 people have travelled more than 700 kilometres north-east to Galkayo, where UNHCR has a presence. Most reach the town in the autonomous region of Puntland after a jarring truck ride of up to five days.

“These people remain at risk even after leaving Mogadishu,” a UNHCR partner said. “They have to travel through illegal road blocks, knowing that their belongings might attract thugs and fearing that they might be killed or see their teenage children be raped or abducted.”

In Galkayo, UNHCR Protection Officer Alexander Tyler said most of the new arrivals were women and children with relatives or clan links in the town, where they either stayed with family or moved to one of 14 IDP settlements. Those moving to the settlements arrived with only the most basic household items and depended on other people to support them.

“They have to live in the shelters of other IDPs and to ask them for food, which puts further pressure on the limited capacity of Galkayo to cope with already up to 25,000 IDPs,” he added.

There are currently an estimated 400,000 IDPs in Somalia, which has been torn apart by factional fighting and has not a functioning central government since 1991. Thousands of others have fled to neighbouring countries.