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ICRC Says Hundreds of Civilians Wounded in Somali Fighting


The International Committee of the Red Cross says hundreds of civilians have been wounded in continuing fighting in the Somali capital. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi, thousands of terrified residents fled the capital Saturday after heavy clashes.

The Red Cross says more than 430 wounded civilians had been admitted to hospitals in Mogadishu since the beginning of this year.

The head of mission for the International Committee of the Red Cross' Somalia office, Pascal Hundt, says that there are likely many more war injured in the capital, who have less serious injuries or who have been treated as outpatients.

Hundt describes to VOA some of the injuries the civilians sustained. "There were a few shells that landed in private houses, and this [past] night there was also some cross-fire within the city. So, these are the main types of injuries we can see: people with broken legs and we see [injuries from] the shrapnel or shells or even bullets," he said.

The agency estimates that several dozen civilians have been killed within the past two months, but says it cannot confirm the exact number.

Witnesses say heavy gunfire and shelling broke out between Ethiopian troops and unknown gunmen Friday near the former Defense Ministry building in southern Mogadishu.

Thousands of terrified civilians Saturday fled the capital, many grabbing household items and personal belongings before heading out to the countryside.

In its Saturday statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross called on the warring parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law to protect civilians during warfare, as Hundt explains. "I know how difficult it could be for the warring parties as fighting is taking place in an urban environment. But, nonetheless, I'm sure they should take more precaution when using these type of weapons in an urban center," he said.

Fighting in the capital has intensified over the past week or so, as gunmen and Ethiopian troops have battled one another.

In December, Somalia's interim government, backed by Ethiopian troops, launched an offensive to drive out members of the Islamic Courts Union, which had set up its base in the capital some six months before.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991, with warlords and their clans and sub-clans controlling different parts of the country.

The African Union has approved a plan to bring African peacekeepers into the volatile nation.

Uganda is preparing to deploy 1,500 troops, with other countries also expressing interest.

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