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Conflict in Somalia Deepens Suffering of Children


The U.N. Children's Fund and Save the Children are demanding that all children associated with armed forces or groups in Somalia must be immediately released from their ranks, or from detention centers where they currently are being held. The aid agencies say the suffering of Somali children and women has increased since the recent upsurge of fighting in the country. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The aid agencies say children in Somalia are suffering from drought, flooding and now conflict. They warn more children will be separated from their families, orphaned and vulnerable to abuse and neglect unless the situation in this war-torn country is stabilized.

Spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund, Damien Personnaz, says his agency has received reports that many children below age 15 are being recruited as child soldiers. He says all the warring factions are doing this.

"We also do know that a lot of children fighting for one of the parties in Somalia are being detained and are still detained," he said. "And the third thing is that we do also know that a lot of children have been deliberately the targets of some nasty grenade attacks in IDP camps, internally displaced camps."

Personnaz says it is hard to believe that children are being deliberately targeted. But, he notes, there can be no other explanation since it is women and children who mainly live in the makeshift IDP camps.

"The people know that actually men are not in these IDP camps so the fact that they throw grenades into these camps from whatever side is part of the war strategy for all the parties," he added. "So, they are deliberately targeting civilians and mostly women and children."

UNICEF and Save the Children say they are very disturbed by reports that Somali children and women are among the casualties of aerial bombardment in the southern part of the country. They also are concerned that with the closure of Kenya's borders, the threats to fleeing Somalis have increased.

In fact, Personnaz says civilians are totally trapped within their own borders.

"They are trapped because bombardments prevent them to go to a safe place," he noted. "There is no safe corridors. There is no safe-havens. There is no safe place actually currently existing in Somalia-mostly in the South. So, these people are the first victims of the current conflict. This is not new again. We are sorry to say that, but this is the reality."

Personnaz says the conflict situation, plus the closure of the border with Kenya, is making it extremely difficult for humanitarian workers to reach vulnerable people with critically needed relief supplies. He says aid agencies have to airlift supplies. And this, he says, is extremely difficult, dangerous and very costly.

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