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Mogadishu Fighting Sets Back Stability Efforts

The United Nations refugee agency said it is deeply concerned about the weeklong clashes in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The UNHCR said the fighting has claimed many civilian lives, sparked a new wave of displacement and set back efforts to stabilize the situation in Mogadishu.

The U.N. refugee agency described the latest fighting as some of the heaviest seen in Mogadishu this year. It said the fighting between the Transitional Federal Government and opposition groups so far has killed more than 135 people and wounded 315.

UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler, said hospitals in central Mogadishu are overwhelmed by the large number of casualties.

"Reports from our partners in the capital say that some people have been trapped in their homes for days, unable to flee because of the raging street battles. Those who are able to escape spoke of indiscriminate nightly bombings of residential areas and the targeting of civilians," he explained. "Some witnessed many people dying, including children and the vulnerable who were unable to leave the conflict area," said Spindler.

The UNHCR reported about 30,000 people have become dislocated as a result of the fighting. Spindler said many of the newly displaced families had recently returned home following a period of relative peace in Mogadishu. He noted about 65,000 Internally Displaced People had returned to the city between January and April.

He said the number of people being displaced is increasing as the fighting intensifies. Many of the newly displaced, he said are heading toward the Afgooye corridor, some 30 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu.

Afgooye already shelters more than 400,000 Somalis who fled there from previous bouts of government and rebel fighting. Because of the dangers, the UNHCR and other aid agencies rely on national Somali staff to carry out their humanitarian operations.

UNHCR spokesman Spindler said it is very difficult to work in Somalia. The violence is a major obstacle to any relief operation. He said he and other aid agencies are unable to be as effective as they would like in responding to the crisis. But, they are doing the best they can, given the limitations.