15 May 2009

Somalia: Death Toll Rising Following Renewed Heavy Fighting in Capital - UN

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced deep concern over the mounting death toll in Somalia amid some of the fiercest armed clashes the country has experienced this year, sparking a new wave of displacements.

Rebel attacks in Mogadishu have killed at least 135 people and wounded over 400, sending over 34,000 more fleeing the heavy fighting that erupted last week between forces loyal to the embattled Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and opposition groups, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The agency reported that hospitals in central Mogadishu are overwhelmed by the large number of casualties in need of urgent medical attention.

UNHCR's partner organizations in the capital say that some people have been trapped in their homes for days, unable to leave because of the raging street battles, and those who have escaped spoke of indiscriminate nightly bombings of residential areas. Some witnessed large numbers of people dying, including children and the vulnerable who were unable to leave the conflict area.

Many of the displaced are heading to an area some 30 kilometres south-west of Mogadishu, which already houses over 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), while other have looked for safer parts of the city to seek refuge.

UNHCR has pre-positioned blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheets and kitchen sets for up to 108,000 people in Mogadishu and is making arrangements for the rapid distribution of these desperately needed items as security allows.

The agency noted that the latest fighting is a major set back to efforts to establish stability in Mogadishu, which saw the return of some 65,000 IDPs to the city between January and April.

"It is extremely sad to see that, while we were preparing to assist people to return home and resume a normal life after years of displacement and suffering, a new humanitarian catastrophe is erupting," said UNHCR Representative to Somalia, Guillermo Bettocchi.

"What is more frustrating is our inability to access the displaced people and give them the help they need," he added.

The agency assists more than 460,000 Somali refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as coordinating the protection and shelter for an additional 1.3 million displaced in Somalia.

On Wednesday, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told a meeting of the Security Council that the situation in the Horn of Africa nation remains "quite fragile" following the attempted coup on 9 May by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Al Shabaab fighters, and noted that the latest surge in violence is clearly a response to the Government's strategy to reach out and build a critical mass in support of peace.

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