UN News Service (New York)
25 April 2008
Some 7,000 people have fled the Somali capital Mogadishu after a new round of fighting this week that killed a significant number of civilians and reportedly wounded 200 people, including women and children, the United Nations refugee agency announced today.
"The exodus from the war-ravaged city further aggravates the situation in a country where over 1 million people are already internally displaced," Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva, adding that some 700,000 left Mogadishu last year alone. "The latest violence also prevents the internally displaced living in areas surrounding the city from returning to their homes.
He pointed out that international aid agencies, including UNHCR, are impeded from providing affected populations with the protection and assistance they need. Furthermore, aid workers encounter problems at checkpoints, including demands for money in exchange for passage.
Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces fought with insurgents, and according to eyewitness reports, over 1,000 families fled their homes in two neighbourhoods north of Mogadishu following heavy shelling of residential areas.
"Scores of civilians have reportedly been killed or wounded over the past few days, among them worshippers brutally killed in a mosque, sparking fresh fears and renewed exodus of civilians from the city," Mr. Redmond observed.
Many of those who have left Mogadishu are seeking safety in the bush or on the road leading to Afgooye.
That town, which is 30 km west of the capital, is already sheltering over 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom who escaped violence in Mogadishu last year.
UNHCR reported that since yesterday, the fighting has stopped in Mogadishu, but people continue to leave the city, though the numbers are falling.
As soon as the security situation allows, the agency will distribute non-food items – including sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and plastic sheets – to settlements for up to 14,000 families, or 84,000 people, along the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye.
Earlier this week, an independent UN human rights expert condemned the killing of civilians in Somalia, including a number of religious leaders, and called for an immediate end to the violence that has flared up in recent weeks in the Horn of Africa nation.
In a statement, Ghanim Alnajjar, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, condemned in particular the alleged deliberate killing of numerous clerics belonging to "Altabligh Group" at the Al-Hidaya Compound/Mosque.
"The killings have to be investigated expeditiously and impartially, and any lasting peace in Somalia must be based on justice, truth and accountability," he stated.