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Increased Somalia Fighting Making UN Assistance Difficult - 2002-08-22

A U.N. official says an increase in fighting in Somalia is making it more difficult to get humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of needy people. The U.N. reports factional armed conflict throughout Somalia again is on the rise and is reaching levels not seen in years.

The coordinator of U.N. humanitarian programs in Somalia, Maxwell Gaylard, calls the situation "a cancer of instability" and says it is having a serious impact on humanitarian assistance programs in most of the country.

"The civilians get caught up in it," he said. "If they stay, their properties are looted and destroyed. If they move, they become IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), they become more vulnerable. At this point in time, we do not have an immediate humanitarian crisis. But, the situation is such that anything could tip these communities over, you know, bad flood, drought, bad harvest. It could tip already vulnerable communities over into crisis."

Mr. Gaylard says about six or seven factions are vying for power in the capital, Mogadishu. He says that in the past six months, three U.N. local staff were kidnapped in the city, although they all were later released. He says fighting elsewhere in the country also is making it difficult for aid workers to distribute humanitarian assistance and carry out development projects.

But the U.N. official says Somalia is not a lost cause and must not be abandoned.

"It is not a matter of donors and U.N. sort of giving things to Somalia," he said. "We do not see it like that. Whatever we do there, we see as investment. I think you will agree if you have Somalia in the state that it is [in] today, it is no good for the natives and it is not good for the international community. It is a cancer of instability."

The United Nations has appealed for $83 million from the international community, but it has received just more than 40 percent of that. Mr. Gaylard says help is needed, especially in protection and security, education, and economic recovery.