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SOMALIA: UN warns of humanitarian crisis as aid flights suspended

NAIROBI, 27 December 2006 (IRIN) - A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Somalia where fighting has forced the suspension of relief air food operations for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Wednesday.

"Close to half a million flood-affected people needed urgent humanitarian assistance and the current insecurity will further complicate the humanitarian situation in Southern Somalia," WFP deputy Country Director for Somalia, Leo van der Velden, said.

An estimated 1.4 million Somalis need humanitarian assistance and "for the past one week, significant numbers of internal displacements have been reported," Van der Velden said. "There is a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Somalia," he warned.

The agency is continuing limited ground operations, but has suspended some planned relief operations in regions where the fighting is taking place.

The fighting, between Ethiopian-backed forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), entered its second week on Wednesday.

WFP, which has been airlifting humanitarian aid to communities cut off by recent flooding since November, dropped aid in Afmadow district in Lower Juba region last week. But, Van der Velden warned, "it became impossible to continue relief air operations" as a result of the armed conflic.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the floodwaters have receded slightly in most affected areas in southern Somalia, but the situation in Hiran, Lower and Middle Shebele, Lower and Middle Juba, and Gedo remains extremely serious.
 
"Over 800 war wounded have arrived at the various medical structures around [the towns of] Baidoa and Mogadishu in the last few days," said Antonella Notari, ICRC spokesperson.

Neighbouring Kenya, which is bracing for an influx of refugees from the fighting, has called on Ethiopia to stop military operations in Somalia, and operate within the procedures of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority of Development (IGAD).

Kenya's ambassador to Somalia, Muhammad Affey, told IRIN on Wednesday: "We have contacted both the TFG and Islamic courts in view of organising a ceasefire and a return to the peace talks … ." "We expect to have them here [Nairobi] sooner rather than later."

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said his forces "had a mission" in Somalia. "As soon we finish the mission, we will be out of there," he told reporters.

Sources said the Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces continued their advance on Wednesday, capturing the key town of Jowhar, 90 km north of the capital Mogadishu. "They are in Jowhar now. They entered the town after UIC forces withdrew at around 10:00 am local time," a resident, who requested anonymity, said.

Meanwhile, the UIC chairman, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, told Somalis on Tuesday "to brace for a long war". Addressing a news conference in Mogadishu - for the first time since the fighting began - Ahmed said his forces had adopted new tactics.

"Since we do not possess heavy weapons, we have decided to change our military tactics and war plan for the fighting to continue for a very long time," he said.

Diplomatic efforts were meanwhile continuing in a bid to halt the conflict.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan telephoned the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, on Tuesday, while his special envoy to Somalia urged the UN Security Council to call on all sides to "stop the fighting", according to his spokesman.

In a briefing to the Council, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonsény Fall, warned of regional consequences if the fighting escalates.

"Unless a political settlement is reached through negotiations, Somalia will face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region," Fall said.

ah/jm

Theme (s): Conflict, Food Security, Refugees/IDPs,

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

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