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Over 40,000 displaced Somalis return to capital despite clashes, says UN agency

27 February 2009 – Although the Somali capital is witnessing some of the worst clashes in months, more than 40,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to Mogadishu in the last six weeks, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) reported today.

The violence has led to civilian casualties and the agency is currently assessing the scale of displacement caused by this latest round of fighting, spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.

“UNHCR is not encouraging returns to Mogadishu at this juncture, as the security situation is volatile and the conditions are certainly not conducive,” he said, noting that there is limited access to basic services and very few international aid agencies on the ground due to the violence.

“Nevertheless, we are preparing to help returnees or those who wish to return in the near future, in the hope that the security situation will improve,” Mr. Spindler said.

There are some 1.3 million Somalis uprooted within their own country, while last year alone, 100,000 people fled to neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen, and the total number of Somali refugees in asylum countries numbers nearly 450,000.

The majority of the IDPs who have recently returned to Mogadihsu have come from the southern and central regions, which have faced a combination of renewed conflict and severe drought.

Many are returning as complete families, while some are heads of households who have left their relatives behind in camps who have gone to the capital to check on their properties. The returnees are going back to neighbourhoods in northern Mogadishu that are virtually empty after two years of conflict.

Somalia has been beset by factional fighting and has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

In a related development, the so-called International Contact Group welcomed progress in the Horn of African nation, namely the creation of an enlarged and more inclusive Parliament and the election of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

Chaired by Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, the Group, which today wrapped up a two-day meeting in Brussels, also lauded the extension of the transitional period and the appointment of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

“The ICG acknowledges and supports this new Somali-owned and led peace and reconciliation process,” it said in a communiqué.

The Group strongly condemned the suicide attack on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu, which caused the deaths of more than 10 Burundian peacekeepers and injured 17 others on 22 February.

“It appreciates the continued commitment of AMISOM and its troop contributing countries performing under extremely difficult conditions and calls on all Somali parties to support those working to bring peace and stability to the country,” the communiqué noted.

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