Thousands displaced by fighting in Lower Juba

Hundreds of Somali Bantu families have been displaced in the southern region of Lower Juba after days of inter-clan fighting in which 10 people were reportedly killed and more than 20 wounded, locals told IRIN.

The conflict, mostly around Jamamme, the district capital - 440km south of Mogadishu - broke out on 14 and 15 May between Bantu clans and the Biyamal clan of the main Dir community.

The minority Bantu, sedentary farmers who live in riverine areas, are of Bantu origin, unlike most Somalis, who are Cushitic in origin.

Hassan Yusuf, a resident of Kamsuma, 20km northeast of Jamamme, said the fighting was most serious in and around the villages of Balad Amiin, 15km south of Jamamme, and Sabatuni, 16km to the southeast.

He said the clashes were triggered by revenge for the recent killing of a Bantu youth by the Biyamal after an argument over charcoal burning, a lucrative trade in the region.

He said the village of Balad Amiin was razed to the ground, while Sabatuni was partially damaged.

"The 600 Bantu families who lived there are now displaced," he added.

The Bantus for their part raided two Biyamal villages and took some livestock, he added.

Ugas Muhyadiin Ibrahim Sabtow of the Jarrer Weyn (Bantus), told IRIN that most of the displaced families from his side were encamped on the eastern side of the Juba River.

In retaliatory raids, the Bantu militia attacked two Biyamal villages, displacing 400 families, according to Haji Mahamud Ali Hamuun, a Biyamal elder.

"The villages of Bulo Muse and Bulon Jeele were raided and they took many heads of livestock," he said.

Taking up arms

Sabtow said the Bantu, who normally do not carry weapons, had been forced to arm themselves.

"For the past 17 years we had to endure and watch as armed groups raided our villages and took whatever they wanted," he said. "We were forced to arm to defend our lives and land."

A local journalist told IRIN that the Bantus had been buying weapons for defensive purposes.

"They have suffered in the past at the hands of their nomadic neighbours, so they decided enough was enough," he said.

Yusuf said a temporary ceasefire was in place, with the two sides expected to meet in Kamsuma.

Mohamed Osman, a local aid worker, told IRIN that both sides said they wanted to talk: "Both seem eager to end the conflict." He said the fighting had resulted in 1,000-1,500 families - about 9,000 people - being displaced.

Hamuun, the Biyamal elder, said the two sides had met three times in the past week but were unable to resolve their differences.

"I am hopeful that this meeting tomorrow [20 May] will find an acceptable solution, before things get worse," he said.

Sabtow said the Bantus always sought to live peacefully with their neighbours and would welcome "any mediation to end our conflict with the Biyamal".

ah/mw