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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
22 December 2006

SOMALIA: Dozens killed as fighting continues in the south

NAIROBI, 22 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - Dozens of civilians have been killed, at least 200 wounded, and many more have been driven from their homes as fighting continues around the southern Somali town of Baidoa, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday.

"We are very concerned about the plight of civilians who might get caught up in the fighting," said Pascal Hundt, head of the ICRC's Somalia delegation. "We call on all parties involved in the clashes to spare and protect civilians and to take every precaution when conducting military operations."

The agency urged the parties in the conflict to take all necessary measures to ensure that the wounded and captured fighters are protected and receive treatment, and that medical staff, hospitals and clinics are spared from attacks.

Fighting began four days ago between forces of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and those of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). International media reported Ethiopian tanks heading to the battlefront on Friday. Reuters quoted witnesses as saying they heard the rumble of armour before dawn.

The UIC accuses Ethiopia of sending troops into Somalia to support the TFG. Ethiopia denies the accusation, but admits it has military trainers in Baidoa. Instead, it says Eritrea ferries weapons to the UIC - a claim denied by Eritrea.

Local sources in Baidoa and Buur Hakaba (60 km north of Baidoa) told IRIN on Friday that fighting had resumed on both the southern [Iidale] and northern [Daynnunay] fronts. "There is fierce fighting going on near Iidale," said a Baidoa resident. Both sides, he added, were using heavy weapons, "including tanks and artillery".

The Daynuunay front was quiet this morning, but "around 1:00pm fighting resumed and it is still going on", said a resident in Buur Hakaba. The sources said both sides had been receiving reinforcements since Thursday.

The ICRC call came after three international aid agencies operating in south-central Somalia appealed to the warring sides to cease hostilities, allow for unrestricted humanitarian access, and resume peace talks.

CARE, Save the Children-UK and World Vision International on Thursday urged the TFG and UIC to ensure humanitarian access to those who are suffering from the effects of fighting, recent flooding and months of prolonged drought.

The three agencies are among the largest of their kind working in South and Central Somalia and, between them, they provide relief and development support to an estimated 1.5 million people. "Close to one million people have been seriously affected by a series of multiple natural disasters," Paul Daniels, assistant country director for CARE-Somalia, said.

They warned that the war would compound the effects of recent flooding after months of drought, and "is likely to displace over one million vulnerable people and create a new surge of refugees in neighboring countries", as well as destabilise the entire Horn of Africa region. Graham Davison, the World Vision-Somalia's operations director, said, "We request safe and secure access to enable us to carry out our humanitarian work."

In a separate statement, the United Nations appealed to both sides of the conflict to exercise restraint. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, said that he was extremely disturbed the by the deteriorating situation in the country.

"Engaging in conflict at a time when a significant segment of the population is already struggling for survival is unacceptable," Laroche said. "More than ever, stability is now essential for the success of the ongoing humanitarian operation and all efforts should be entirely focused on alleviating the suffering of Somalis."

The TFG was installed in late 2004 in an effort to bring peace and security to the Horn of Africa country which has been without an effective government for 16 years. In June this year, the UIC defeated the warlords who had controlled Mogadishu since 1991, after the collapse of the regime led by Muhammad Siyad Barre. The UIC has since extended its authority to large areas in the south and central regions of the country.

ah/jm

[ENDS]

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006



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