More than 8,000 flee fresh fighting in Somalia capital
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 25 (UNHCR) - A fresh eruption of fighting this week in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has forced an estimated 8,200 people to flee the beleaguered coastal city.
The combat between Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces and insurgents has killed a substantial number of civilians and reportedly wounded some 200 people, including women and children.
"The warring parties must put an end to this senseless violence", said Guillermo Bettocchi, UNHCR's Nairobi-based representative for Somalia. "They must refrain from further aggravating the already dire plight of innocent Somali civilians, who are the first victims of this unbearable situation."
Eyewitnesses said that more than a thousand families fled from their homes in two neighbourhoods in the north of Mogadishu following heavy shelling of residential areas, placing civilians at great risk.
Among the scores of civilians reportedly killed or wounded over the past few days were worshippers executed in a mosque, sparking fresh fears and a renewed exodus of civilians from the city.
Many of those fleeing the capital have sought safety in the bush or on the road leading to the small town of Afgooye, 30 kilometres to the west, which has more than 250,000 displaced civilians already living in precarious conditions. Most of these people escaped fighting in Mogadishu in 2007.
UNHCR staff report that since Thursday, the fighting has receded and even stopped in Mogadishu. People continue to leave the town, but in reduced numbers compared to previous days.
The exodus from the war-ravaged city further aggravates the situation in a country where more than 1 million people are internally displaced. Some 700,000 of them fled Mogadishu last year alone. The latest violence also prevents the internally displaced living in areas surrounding the city from returning to their homes.
International aid agencies, including UNHCR, already encounter serious security obstacles in reaching the affected populations to provide them with the protection and assistance they need. Additional to the recurrent violence, aid workers regularly face problems at checkpoints, including demands for money.
As soon as security allows, UNHCR will make another round of aid distribution in the outlying settlements along the Mogadishu-Afgooye road, which will benefit up to 14,000 families, or around 84,000 people.
The first phase of the distribution is planned for next week and will target 7,000 families, including the most vulnerable ones. Much needed household items such as sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and plastic sheets will be distributed.
By Catherine Weibel in Nairobi, Kenya