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SOMALIA: Civilians caught in the crossfire - UN humanitarian chief

NAIROBI, 4 December 2007 (IRIN) - Despite ongoing relief efforts, humanitarian agencies have yet to meet the needs of many internally displaced persons (IDPS) in Somalia, especially those who remain inaccessible, John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said.

Indiscriminate violence had continued in the capital, Mogadishu, malnutrition rates in IDP camps were alarming and family members were being separated as they fled the violence, Holmes told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 3 December, at the end of a day-long mission to Somalia.

Travelling along a 17km stretch of road between Afgoye and Mogadishu where at least 200,000 IDPs have sought refuge, Holmes visited IDP camps and a therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children in a clinic run by a renowned Somali doctor.

"The displaced people I spoke to told me about the difficulties they underwent; those fleeing were arriving with nothing but a few clothes," Holmes said. "It is the civilians who are getting caught in the crossfire of this ongoing conflict. Violence, pressure and intimidation of all kinds are clearly getting worse."

Fighting between government forces and insurgents intensified in Mogadishu in early 2007 and has caused the deaths of hundreds of people and the displacement of an estimated 450,000 civilians.

Holmes's trip to Somalia marked the end of his eight-day mission to the region when he also visited Ethiopia and Sudan. He is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on 6 December on his findings.

"I went to Somalia to see the situation of the IDPs and to talk to the government authorities about the concerns of the international community on humanitarian access in the country," Holmes said.

Despite international presence being limited, relief efforts were ongoing; "water trucks were visible, plastic sheeting being distributed for shelter, latrines being built and an immunisation campaign was going on".

However, he expressed concern for the displaced who remain out of reach of relief aid. "Difficulties of access, such as roadblocks and taxation of civilians, remain a big problem," he said.

In Baidoa, Holmes met the new prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, who, he said, supported the need to improve the security situation in the country, especially in Mogadishu.

"Humanitarian response is high on the prime minister's agenda," Holmes said. "There is a recognition on his part that we all have to work together to overcome the massive humanitarian challenges that confront Somalia today.

"But we need to see that translated into action," he added.

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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.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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