The United Nations refugee agency says nearly 170,000 people have now
been displaced from their homes in Somalia's capital since Islamist
insurgents launched a renewed offensive in early May.
According to the
U.N. refugee agency hospital records indicate that more than 250 people
have been killed since May 7, and nearly 169,000 displaced. The UNHCR
says the bulk of those fleeing their homes have headed to settlements
for internally displaced people in Afgooye, south of Mogadishu, or have
moved to safer areas of the capital and its outskirts. According to the
agency, 33,000 people have been displaced in the last week alone.
early May, the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam militias launched a new
offensive in Mogadishu in an effort to topple the
internationally-backed transitional government of President Sheikh
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The insurgents reject the government's brand of
Islamism as too moderate and want African Union peacekeepers to leave
About 4,300 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers are
deployed in the capital. Their presence has prevented key landmarks,
including the president's residence, the port, and the airport, from
falling under insurgent control, but they have had little success in
stemming the overall fighting.
In a letter to the African Union
ahead of a summit meeting in Libya early next month, the organization
Human Rights Watch called on the AU to ensure that its peacekeepers
respect human rights. While noting the extensive challenges faced by
the mission, the group raised concern with reports that AU
peacekeepers have fired indiscriminately at civilians, including an
incident in February in which peacekeepers allegedly killed 13
civilians after their convoy came under attack.
The AU has
appealed to the U.N. to take over responsibility for peacekeeping, but
the Security Council has said the security situation remains too
Human Rights Watch is also urging African leaders to
press the United Nations to establish a commission of experts to
investigate rights abuses in the Somali conflict, saying it would be
the first step towards providing accountability. The Africa director at
Human Rights Watch, Georgette Gagnon, says much of the relevant
information is already available through existing reports.
really isn't a lack of information per se about what's going on," said
Gagnon. "The information is getting out. The real issue is what's being
done about it which is very little, both at the Security Council in New
York and to some extent by the African Union."
United States government has acknowledged sending arms to the Somali
government. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the transitional
government represents Somalia's best chance in 18 years to return to
peace and stability.
"At the request of that government, the
State Department has helped to provide weapons and ammunition on an
urgent basis," said Kelly. "This is to support the Transitional Federal
Government's efforts to repel the onslaught of extremist forces which
are intent on destroying the Djibouti peace process and spoiling
efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia through political
Human Rights Watch's Georgette Gagnon says it
has not yet received any information about the arms transfers. The
group has been highly critical of Somalia policy under the Bush
administration, including its support for Ethiopian forces who occupied
the country from late 2006 to early this year, and its policy of
launching air strikes against suspected terrorists. Gagnon.
also been very concerned about U.S. policy in Somalia which frankly has
not been good and has in our view to some extent increased the bad
human rights situation there. So we've been calling on the new Obama
administration to change its policy in Somalia," said Gagnon.
United States has also said it believes that Eritrea is providing
support to al-Shabab, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist
organizations, suspected of links to al-Qaida.