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SOMALIA: Continuing fighting forces hundreds more to flee homes

NAIROBI, 21 December 2006 (IRIN) - The number of people fleeing the southern Somalia towns of Baidoa and Buur Hakaba swelled on Thursday as fighting between forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) entered a second day, sources told IRIN.

"Yesterday [Wednesday] we had people coming from the Daynuunay area [epicenter of the fighting]. Today, many Buur residents are leaving their homes," Mukhtar Atosh, a resident of Buur Hakaba, said.

A source in Baidoa said that "people were leaving before, but the numbers were not that big. Today [Thursday] and yesterday [Wednesday] we are seeing more people leaving, including business people."

A civil society source told IRIN that the people were "leaving fearing more fighting."

"Many of the people fleeing are agro-pastoralists, who would [normally] be tending their farms and livestock, but will now be IDPs (internally displaced persons)," Abdullahi Shirwa of the Civil Society in Action, a coalition of civil-society groups, said. "If fighting continues, I am afraid we are looking a humanitarian disaster."

The fighting began on Tuesday, a day before the arrival of the European Commissioner (EC) for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, who was in the country to mediate between the two sides.

Michel led an EC delegation to Baidoa, where the TFG is based, for talks with President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. He later travelled to the capital, Mogadishu, for discussions with the UIC, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the chairman of the UIC Consultative Council, and other leaders.

"I am very happy to inform you all that the mission can be considered as a full success because both parties - and this is very important - reiterated their commitment to the Khartoum dialogue process, and political solution to the Somali crisis. This is the first principle that is shared by both parties," Michel told reporters on Wednesday evening in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on his return from Somalia.

The UIC described their meeting with Michel as positive. "We have given our commitment to attend the peace talks in Khartoum," Sheikh Abdirahman Janaqow, the UIC first vice-chairman, who attended the meeting, told IRIN on Thursday.

The TFG said their side of the talks had been open. "We had candid and frank discussions with Commissioner Michel. We have given him our views on the situation in the country and the way forward," Ali Jama Jangali, Minster of Information said.

The fighting which began in Iidale village, 55 km south of Baidoa and Buulo Jadid, 23 km north of Baidoa, spread on Thursday to the Daynunay area, 23 km north of Baidoa, according to a local resident in Buur Hakaba, 60 km north of Baidoa.

Although the fighting subsided on Wednesday evening, "it resumed with a vengeance at midnight", the Buur Hakaba resident said. He added that the southern front was "quiet early Thursday, but picked up late morning.

"Both sides, he added, were mobilising forces and seemed to be gearing up for an escalation in violence, in which both sides are claiming to have the upper hand.

Death toll rises

Medical sources told IRIN that the "death toll on both sides could be as high as 50".

"Both sides are not bringing their dead to hospitals, but the number of wounded which we estimate to be between 150 to 200, indicate that there is a high number of fatalities on both sides," said a doctor in Mogadishu currently in touch with medical personnel in Buur Hakaba and Baidoa.

The UIC are keeping their wounded in Buur Hakaba, and the TFG are taking their wounded to Baidoa, said the Doctor.

The TFG was installed in late 2004 in an effort to bring peace and security to the Horn of Africa country which has been without an effective government for 16 years. In June this year, the UIC defeated the warlords who had controlled Mogadishu since 1991, after the collapse of the regime led by Muhammad Siyad Barre. The UIC has since extended its authority to large areas in the south and central regions of the country.

ah/jm

[IRIN has produced a new film, "Somalia: A State of Need" (18 mins), which takes a balanced look at the country, the current humanitarian situation and the social impact of the Islamic Courts. The film includes rare footage of life in Mogadishu and the rural south. It is viewable online at: http://www.irinnews.org/film/. IRIN is looking at new techniques to distribute its films online in a higher-resolution format. As a trial of one technology option, we are offering a Bit Torrent download of the film at 640×480 size in MPG format. The file is about 450 MB. Please contact irinfilms@irinnews.org if you are interested.]

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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