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UN's Somalia Envoy Says Country Faces Deepening Crisis


Somalia is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN refugee agency. UNHCR's Somalia representative says if nothing changes, the country will spiral further into lawlessness and rule by warlords. He spoke with VOA's Mandy Clark in London. Here is her report.

The UN's Somalia representative, Gulliermo Bettocch, came to London to deliver a clear, stark message, Somalia is at a crisis point and needs urgent help.

He says the humanitarian disaster in Somalia is unprecedented and warns that the crisis will only deepen if nothing is done to stop it.

"I think that the situation in Somalia today is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," he said. "We will go back to a situation in what rules is the law of arms and warlords and militias will continue profiting from a situation of conflict. The normal Somali people will bear the consequences."

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991 and factional fighting, famine and floods in the country have led to the deaths of over one million people. Thousands died last year alone in clashes between Islamic insurgents and a weak transitional government that is being supported by troops from neighboring Ethiopia.

Reports of killings and clashes have become a near daily occurrence and the U.N.'s Bettocch says humanitarian workers have also become targets. The latest example of that was on Monday when a roadside bomb killed three aid workers from the group Doctors Without Borders.

"The attack on Medicine Sans Frontieres portrays the risks that the humanitarian workers face on a daily basis in Somalia," he noted. "I have myself been under mortar attacks at the Mogadishu international airport once. And every time that we go to Mogadishu we have to move around in armed vehicles with armed escorts wearing flak jackets and helmets and with a security apparatus that makes it very difficult to relate to the people."

Ethiopia has sent in troops to help oust the Islamic groups and support the transition government. Last year, the African Union promised to help disarm the militias with a peacekeeping force of 8,000 and the U.N. is also considering joining the effort, but so far only 1,600 Ugandan peacekeepers have been sent in.

That is too small a force to stop the insurgents, says Bettocch.

Bettocch says it is in the world's interest to help Somalia, warning that extremist groups like al-Qaida could easily thrive in the country's current instability.

"The situation of lawlessness, the lack of a functional and an effective government and the lack of a capacity for law enforcement really are conditions where these kind of groups can operate and I would not be surprised if that was the case," he explained.

Bettocch says he is very frustrated by the lack of political progress and he says it is time for the international community to step up its efforts to help.

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