Fighting forces 18,500 to flee Mogadishu

Fighting between insurgents and Somali government forces backed by Ethiopian troops and AU peacekeepers has sparked another exodus of civilians from Mogadishu, a local human rights group said.

"From 20 September, our figures show that 18,500 people have fled their homes due to the fighting and shelling," Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation, told IRIN.

The displacement, he added, was fuelled by continued shelling in the city in fighting that has been described as the worst in recent months.

"Last night [28 September] heavy fighting and shelling went on in Hodan and Halwadag districts [south Mogadishu]," he said, adding that many families were on the road in search of safer refuge.

In the past week, at least 100 people have been killed and close to 300 reportedly wounded, according to hospital sources.

The fighting was most intense in south Mogadishu, said a local journalist, who declined to be named. "The area is emptying," he said. "Those who had not left before are on the move now. It is not going to be a very happy Eid [festivities after the month of Ramadan] for many."

The journalist said many of those displaced were headed towards the Afgoye road, where camps for hundreds of thousands of displaced people are located.

The Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, which has been negotiating with the Somali transitional government, has condemned the latest fighting.

It accused the AU of brutality and indiscriminate use of heavy weapons, targeting areas that were not close to the fighting zone.

"AMISOM [the African Union Mission in Somalia] used unnecessary force and targeted heavily populated quarters and markets far away from the fighting area(s), which can only be taken as a deliberate mass killing," the alliance said in a statement issued on 29 September.

However, AMISOM spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku told IRIN the accusation that AU peacekeepers were engaged in mass killings "was nonsense".

He said AU peacekeepers did not initiate any attacks on any group.

"We only defend our positions when attacked," he said.

Thousands flee to Dadaab camp

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has said more Somali refugees were streaming into Dadaab camp in north-eastern Kenya.

"This year alone we have registered more than 45,000 new asylum-seekers at Dadaab," said the agency in a statement. On average, 5,000 Somali refugees arrive every month.

The refugee population in Dadaab, one of the world’s oldest, biggest and most congested camps, was now more than 215,000 - a 25 percent increase since the beginning of 2008, UNHCR said.

In a related development, armed men identifying themselves as Al-Shabab, a splinter group of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), have attacked four International Medical Corps (IMC) offices in the Bakool and Bay regions of Somalia.

"[IMC] is deeply concerned about the impact of these attacks on the health of already suffering Somali people, especially children," Rabih Torbay, vice-president of international operations, said in a statement on 26 September.

"As a result of the current drought, food crisis and ongoing violence, IMC has seen the number of malnourished children in its programmes more than double in recent months," he added. "These children and their families will now be left without any care."

ah/mw