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ICRC Concerned About Plight of Civilians in Somalia


The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for respect for international humanitarian law in Somalia. It says it is deeply concerned about the plight of the civilian population, the war wounded, and detainees as number of victims of the fighting in Somalia grows. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says a growing number of people are being killed and wounded from ongoing military operations in southern Somalia.

ICRC Spokesman Vincent Lusser tells VOA the recent air strikes have created an additional element of danger in this conflict.

"We have had concerns about the people injured during these air strikes. And, the fact that they have taken place in an area, which is very, very inaccessible to humanitarian aid and which also is not near any medical structure," he said.

"And, those wounded in those areas have to walk up to-to be one or two days on the road to reach the nearest medical facility in ... the area," he continued.

Lusser says says livestock also were killed, dealing a serious blow to people who depend on cattle for their livelihood.

He says more than 850 wounded people, civilians and fighters, have been admitted to Red Cross-run medical facilities since the outbreak of hostilities two weeks ago.

That was when Ethiopian troops, backed by the Somali transitional government, fought the Somalia Courts Union and chased them out of the capital Mogadishu.

Lusser says everyone must respect international humanitarian law regarding civilians. But, he says the same rights must also be given to wounded fighters, regardless of who they are or what they have done. He says they must have assurances of safety once they are in a medical facility.

"Once people are injured and get treatment they should feel that they can stay in a medical facility without fear of possible harm," he said. "If there is no such trust, than people who are injured might not even come to these structures or they might leave before their treatment is over."

"And, it is really a very basic principle that in conflict situations, once people are no more fighting but are injured, they deserve the protection of the Geneva Conventions and the respect by all parties to the conflict," he added.

The Red Cross reports the situation of the civilian population in Somalia has sharply deteriorated during the past few weeks, following a series of natural disasters and the heaviest fighting in a decade.

It says most people are dependent on humanitarian aid. It says the widespread shortages of essential items that existed before the recent outbreak of fighting have become worse.

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