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As fighting in Somalia intensifies, UN official voices concern for civilians

As fighting in Somalia intensifies, UN official voices concern for civilians

With fighting in Somalia is at its heaviest since the outbreak of war over a decade ago, the top United Nations humanitarian official today voiced deep concern over the dire situation in the war-torn country where civilians fleeing the capital, Mogadishu, have been harassed, threatened, raped and robbed.

The fragile ceasefire between warring sides agreed to on 1 April crumbled when the fighting resumed yesterday in Mogadishu.

“Although it seemed that there was some hope, it took only days for the truce to be broken and the suffering of the population to be on the rise again,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

Last month in Mogadishu, hundreds of civilians were killed and more than 1,000 wounded were registered in the city’s two main hospitals. Almost 200,000 people have fled Mogadishu because of the bloodshed since 1 February.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that aid workers are being thwarted in their efforts to assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other vulnerable groups by the deteriorating security situation, harassment, intimidation and even detention.

Relief providers are further hampered by the difficulty in accessing aid supplies in Mogadishu because of the military’s presence and activities.

“These incidents compromise the independent and impartial nature of the humanitarian response,” said Mr. Holmes. “Indeed, they are paralyzing the response.”

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).

Southern and central portions of the country have been hard hit by unprecedented droughts, flooding and three waves of intense fighting within the last year, further compounding the critical humanitarian situation in the country.

Due to flooding late last year, the east African country also faces an outbreak of acute water diarrhoea, which has affected 400 people so far.

Meanwhile, human trafficking from northern Somalia to Yemen continued in March, with tragic consequences. Since the beginning of this year, at least 200 people have died – some after being thrown overboard by smugglers – in attempting to reach Yemen. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 5,600 people have landed on the Yemeni coast but many others remain missing.