12 May 2009

Somalia: Thousands Flee Mogadishu Shelling

Nairobi — Thousands of people have fled five days of fighting between government troops and insurgents in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, a human rights group told IRIN on 12 May.

At least 27,500 people fled their homes between 7 and 11 May, according to Ali Sheikh Yassin, deputy chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation (EHRO).

With no let-up in the fighting, more families were fleeing, he said.

"Last night [11 May] saw some of the heaviest shelling in both the north and south of the city," Yassin said, adding that he feared the city could soon be empty.

The displacement has been fuelled by indiscriminate shelling.

Yassin said Mogadishu had not witnessed "anything like this even when the Ethiopians were here; they are fighting right in the middle of the civilians".

Hassan Mahamud, a local journalist, told IRIN: "Today [12 May], there are families on every street looking for shelter, taking advantage of a lull in the fighting."

He said the districts of Hodan, Hawl-Wadag, Wardhigley [south Mogadishu], Huriwa, Yaqshid [north] and parts of Dayniile [southwest] had experienced the heaviest shelling and most displacement.

He said many of those fleeing had returned from camps in the past few months.

Awil Ali, a father of eight, who returned to his home in Huriwa from a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) on the outskirts of Mogadishu, said: "I have had to flee again after only three months; what we witnessed last night was too much. They [the fighting groups] are shelling everywhere."

Ali said some of his neighbours who had never left their homes before were now leaving.

"I honestly cannot say that we have witnessed anything like this before," he added.

Ali, like many of those displaced, was headed towards the Afgoye road, where there are camps for hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Injured treated "under trees"

Medical sources told IRIN that hospitals in the city were overwhelmed by the number of people seeking treatment since fighting began.

"We are receiving more injured people than we handle; we have twice as many people as the hospital can accommodate," said a medical source. He said many people were being treated "in the corridors and under trees".

More than 100 people have been killed in the latest fighting and close to 300 reportedly wounded, according to sources.

Mogadishu was reported to be quiet on 12 May but the adversaries were reported to be preparing for another round. "This is just a lull," a source said.

Yassin of EHRO said both sides had turned a deaf ear to pleas from civil society groups, elders and religious leaders to stop the fighting.

"We have appealed to them to stop the carnage but no one seems to be listening," Yassin said.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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