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UN: More People Flee Mogadishu After Weekend Violence

The U.N. refugee agency says a weekend of violence in Mogadishu has set off another wave of displacement from the war-torn capital of Somalia. It says an estimated 36,000 people have fled their homes and more are preparing to leave. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency calls the fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents in Mogadishu the worst in months. It says the violence probably will result in more people fleeing the city for safer areas.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says aid workers report more people are preparing to leave Mogadishu, even though the situation seems to have calmed down.

"Large numbers of people have packed up their belongings," she said. "But, they really are rather confused about where to go-whether to stay, whether to leave the city entirely, or whether to relocate to another part of the city. The area around the city's Bakara market has seen a lot of upheaval with hundreds of families in several neighborhoods loading trucks, buses, and donkey carts with their household items. According to some accounts, residents have been told by city officials to vacate four districts close to the market as security operations were going to take place there."

Pagonis says many of the people preparing to leave Mogadishu said they are afraid this latest round of violence could escalate to major battles in the city.

She says people complain Ethiopian troops were firing indiscriminately on insurgents and civilians. Since the insurgents do not wear uniforms, she says it is difficult to tell them apart from civilians.

"Most of those leaving Mogadishu were heading to the town of Afgooye, which is already struggling to cope with up to 100,000 people who fled from Mogadishu there earlier in the year," she said. "We had already delivered food or assistance to about 70,000 people in Afgooye earlier this year and we are preparing to carry out more distributions there."

UNHCR spokeswoman Pagonis says the town lacks basic facilities such as water and sanitation. Because of the overcrowded conditions, she says many impromptu, squalid settlements are sprouting along the road to Afgooye and in other areas.

The U.N. agency reports nearly 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu this year.