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SOMALIA: Warnings of health risks; thousands more abandon Mogadishu

NAIROBI, 23 April 2007 (IRIN) - Medical workers in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, have warned of health risks posed by rotting bodies littering the streets as thousands of civilians flee the city to escape fighting.

According to hospital sources, more than 300 people have been killed and 700 wounded in the past five days. Some of the bodies have started rotting, posing a serious health hazard if they are not buried soon, a doctor, who requested anonymity, said on Monday. Nobody had collected the bodies for fear of being shot, he added.

The latest outbreak of clashes between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents began five days ago. Since then, thousands of civilians have fled the city, especially the northern suburbs, civil society sources aid.

Many of those displaced were heading to Ceel Macaan in the east of the city, Bal'ad in the north, Dayniile in the west and Afgoye to the south.

"Many towns and villages close to the city are reaching saturation point," said Madina Muhammad Ilmi, the deputy head of a civil society taskforce for the displaced.

The fighting was concentrated around Yaqshid, Suuqa Hoolaha and Towfiq and Karaan to the north of the city.

Clashes intensified on Thursday morning between a combined force of Ethiopian and government troops and the insurgents - suspected of being the remnants of the ousted Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) - supported by clan militias.

"Karaan is now almost like a ghost town," said a local journalist, who fled the area, adding that thousands of people, mostly women and children, were on the roads carrying their belongings on their backs or on donkey carts.

The newly displaced civilians join hundreds of thousands who have fled the months-long violence in the city. The latest flare-up started when a ceasefire negotiated on 1 April between clan elders and Ethiopian commanders collapsed.
"They are shelling the city with heavy artillery and Katushya rockets without regard," said Hussein Siyaad Qorgaab, a Hawiye elder who was negotiating with the Ethiopians.

Somalia's transitional government said it would continue fighting the insurgents. "The security operation will continue until the city is cleared of all extremists and the government is in full control of the city," Salad Ali Jeele, the deputy defence minister, said on Monday. He called on civilians in affected areas to move out and "find safer areas until this is over".

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local partners distributed supplies to thousands of displaced civilians in Afgoye.

According to UNHCR, at least 321,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February. Of these, about 111,000 people have headed to the nearby Shabelle provinces, 109,000 people to Galgadud region, 24,000 to Hiran and another 14,000 elsewhere.

"On the first day of the distribution on Thursday, UNHCR and its Somali NGO partners were able to reach 1,500 families, or about 9,000 people," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters on Friday in Geneva. "All of them were living outdoors under trees or simply out in the open."




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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