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Violence in Somalia Escalates


The U.N. Refugee Agency reports thousands of Somalis were forced to flee their homes during the weekend in some of the heaviest and bloodiest street battles since fighting erupted May 8 in the capital, Mogadishu. The UNHCR estimates more than 200 people have been killed and 117,000 have been made homeless by the past month's violence.

The latest fighting between government forces and the opposition al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam factions erupted in northwest areas of Mogadishu.

U.N. refugee spokesman, William Spindler, says the civilian population has endured enormous suffering over several decades of civil war. But, the situation, he says, just seems to be getting worse and worse.

"There is clearly a critical humanitarian situation with regular atrocities being committed, with shelling of civilians, with widespread rape, hostage taking," said Spindler. "In other words, serious atrocities are taking place almost on a daily basis."

Spindler says local agencies supporting a hospital in the city report 81 women and children under the age of 14, including a six-month old baby, were among the 218 people treated in the hospital.

He says it is clear the escalating violence is further aggravating an already desperate humanitarian situation in the Somali capital.

"The manner in which civilians are being victimized by this conflict is unacceptable," said Spindler. "Parties to the conflict in Mogadishu are fighting with no regard for the safety of civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights principles."

"UNHCR is appealing to the belligerents to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population. The majority of the displaced are women and children, many fleeing with very few belongings, and having to endure extremely difficult circumstances," he added.

The UNHCR says it has received reports that people desperate to flee are stuck in their homes for days without food or water, waiting for a lull in the fighting to escape.

Spindler says his agency was forced to suspend the scheduled distribution of life saving aid to about 30,000 people on the southeastern outskirts of Mogadishu due to the fighting.

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