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Thousands Of Somalis Continue To Flee Fighting

UN refugee agency says more than 60,000 people in Somalia have fled their homes since the beginning of the year; displacement continues as fighting rages

The UN refugee agency says more than 60,000 people in Somalia have fled their homes since the beginning of the year. The UNHCR says the number of Somali casualties and displaced civilians continues to grow as fighting in central areas of Somalia rages.

The UN refugee agency cites local sources as reporting at least 10 people, including children, were killed when fighting erupted in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on January 13. It says the battles between government forces and al-Shabab and the Hisb-ul-Islam militia have displaced some 14,000 people in the last two weeks.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says new fighting between two rebel groups in the central Somali city of Belet-Weyne on January 9 reportedly killed at least 30 people and injured 50 civilians.

"This, in turn, has caused thousands of people to flee from their homes to save their lives. And, to date an estimated 11,900 have temporarily settled around the Belet-Weyne area in appalling conditions," Fleming said.

She says renewed fighting between rival militia groups in the central region of Galgaduud has displaced nearly 29,000 people since early this year. Fleming says they are in urgent need of shelter, water and health care.

But, she says insecurity makes it difficult for aid workers to access the area and deliver much needed assistance. Despite the terrible conditions, she says so far there has been no mass exodus to neighboring countries.

"We are braced, however, because the compounding factors of insecurity, drought - which has been raging and ongoing for six years - and, as you know, the inability of aid agencies to distribute food in this atmosphere…could have the potential, and it certainly has all the ingredients to have a massive outflow into neighboring countries," Fleming said.

The UN refugee agency calls Somalia one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. It notes some 1.5 million people are internally displaced and more than 560,000 people are living as refugees in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia.