ETHIOPIA-SOMALIA: Fragile security in Mogadishu, NGO slams raid on hospital

NAIROBI, 29 December 2006 (IRIN) - The Somali capital of Mogadishu was quiet but tense on Friday as thousands of displaced residents who fled their homes earlier in the week stayed away out of fear, local sources in the city said.

The security situation remained fragile across the country, aid workers said, citing an incident on Wednesday when Somali government and Ethiopian troops entered a hospital run by the medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (Switzerland) in Dinsor, 130 km southwest of Baidoa.

The troops threatened Somali staff and confiscated all patients' medical records. "It happened on the day after the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] and Ethiopian troops took control of Dinsor town," Gustavo Fernandez, head of the MSF-Switzerland mission in Somalia told IRIN on Friday.

"We have no idea why they took the files - which are confidential by nature and have no other information except the medical information of the patients," he added.

MSF has formally protested to both the Ethiopian and Somali governments. "We are deeply concerned over this incident, and over our ability to attend to those affected by the current situation," Fernadez added. "At the time, there were no war-related patients."

The hospital has several departments including tuberculosis, kala azar, surgical sections, and a nutritional programme. A few weeks ago, international volunteers manning it were evacuated due to the security situation. The hospital remains open.

IDPs on the move

Fighting between rival militias in north Mogadishu displaced thousands of people and claimed the lives of 13 people on Thursday after Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces took the city from the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that had controlled it since June.

"Yaqshid [the epicenter of the fighting] is very quiet today [Friday]," a local resident told IRIN. "The militias are off the streets."

People in central Somalia have been on the move in recent days. It is reckoned that at least 3,000 displaced families (about 21,000 people) had arrived in south Galka'ayo, according to an update issued on Thursday by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Elsewhere, more people had also arrived in north Galka'ayo; while up to 1,000 fled Beletweyne, in Hiraan region; and 14,000 from Bay region. An estimated 6,000 from Bay region are expected to return home soon. The update added that a further 8,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have moved to Lower Shabelle.

OCHA also stated that with transport routes in southern Somalia having been cut by conflict and the recent floods, the prices for food and other commodities had risen in Bay region.

Thursday's clashes in Mogadishu were sparked by the breakdown of law and order after the UIC left on Wednesday.

According to an unnamed local journalist, the absence of militias on the streets, and the improving security situation, were a result of the presence of TFG and Ethiopian forces. "The militias are not sure what to expect so they are lying low until things become clearer," he said.

The government said it was continuing with its efforts to assert its authority and take full control of the city. "The situation is calm this morning. It is much better than yesterday [Thursday]," Abdirahman Dinari, government spokesman, told IRIN on Friday.

He said government security forces were moving into different parts of the city and "by this afternoon they should have the entire city under control".

TFG forces entered the city from the north and south late on Thursday, and were reported to be "moving deeper into the city slowly but steadily", according to a local source. "They have already taken control of the port and airport from clan militias."

Dinari said Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi, who arrived in Afgoye, 20 km south of Mogadishu from the government base in Baidoa, was continuing consultations "with elders, religious leaders, civil society groups - including women's groups - to assure them that the government will maintain law and order".

"We have met with the prime minister and had productive discussions," Abdullahi Shirwa of Civil Society in Action, a coalition of civil society groups, said. "We have asked the prime minister to make sure that there will be no return of warlords to Mogadishu, and he agreed."


Theme (s): Conflict, Health & Nutrition, Refugees/IDPs,


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