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U.N. Humanitarian Official says Somali Civilian Casualties Rise

The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia says he’s “dismayed” over the increase in civilian casualties in the capital city, Mogadishu.

Mark Bowden is again calling on all warring parties to protect the civilian population and respect international humanitarian law.

From Nairobi, Bowden says, “The last month has seen very, very high levels of civilian casualties as a result of fighting in Mogadishu.”

Women and children make up many of the casualties

“Reports we have from hospitals over the last month suggested over 900 people have been casualties directly from the fighting,” he says.

Repeated pleas from Bowden and others have had little effect in protecting civilians caught in the fighting between Islamist militias and forces of the Transitional Federal Government.

“Part of (the reason) is the way the conflict is being fought by both parties, that this is not a conventional conflict. And those fighting are using weapons such as mortars, shells and others that are indiscriminate by their nature,” he says.

Civilians are often being used as human shields in the fighting, according to Bowden.

“These are very serious breaches of the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law. So what I think we’re really calling for is that those involved in the fighting no longer hide behind or abuse the civilian population.”

Who’s left?

Despite many thousands of people fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu, many others remain.

“We understand that a hundred thousand have left in recent months because of the fighting.” But he adds, “The city is still a very important economic hub for the area. And therefore even if people left the city, others come in to work in the city. The markets are operating in the city. The seaport and other parts of the city are working and that’s why people are there.”

Humanitarian aid

Bowden says the fighting has affected the flow of humanitarian aid.

“In direct terms, some of the U.N. buildings were hit by the fighting. The security of U.N. staff in Somalia, and in Mogadishu particularly, is at risk. That means it’s difficult to get access to populations in need of assistance as much as we should have access to them.”

That includes the flow to food aid in Somalia, where the situation has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

“So basically the fighting has really constrained the relief operation for a population that probably faces the highest level of needs in the world.”