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SOMALIA: UN decries civilian deaths in Mogadishu

NAIROBI, 4 April 2007 (IRIN) - The parties to conflict in Somalia must respect international law, protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid to get to those in need, a top United Nations official said.

"There is worry that civilians will bear the brunt of fighting if the ceasefire in place since Sunday does not hold," Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday.

"Parties should respect international humanitarian law [and] remember their duty to protect the rights of civilians at all times, by granting civilians safe passage and allowing humanitarian aid to reach those who have been affected," she added.

Almost 100,000 people have fled Somalia's capital of Mogadishu over the past two months and there are growing concerns about the worsening humanitarian conditions for civilians still trapped in the city, Arbour said in a statement.

Heavy artillery and mortar shells rained on Mogadishu last week, hitting residential areas and causing a large number of casualties. A hospital was reportedly hit on 30 March, killing one person and injuring others, while other health facilities are saturated with patients.

The violence increased after the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu in December.

Separately, the International Contact Group on Somalia (ICGS) called on all parties to immediately cease all hostilities, ensure the protection of the Somali population, and guarantee the security of humanitarian and relief workers.

At a meeting held on Tuesday in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, the ICGS said it was paramount that an inclusive and genuine political and reconciliation process that reaches out to Somalis be established. It also stressed the need for disarmament within the context of this process.

A ceasefire between pro-government troops and insurgents was holding for a third day on Wednesday. People who were trapped in their homes had begun to come out to count their losses, said a local journalist, and some businesses that had closed had now reopened.

Hawiye clan elders and Ethiopian commanders have set up a joint committee to collect the dead and wounded. The dead are being buried, and those who had been trapped and wounded in some neighbourhoods are now being brought in, said Ahmed Abdisalam, the managing partner of HornAfrik radio and television, and the facilitator of the talks.

The committee is also expected to go to areas where the fighting forces are deployed to help reduce tensions. "These are confidence building measures and we hope to begin more substantive discussions tomorrow [Thursday]," he added.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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