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Somalia: Official Urges Factions to Act Humanely

Concerned at Somalia Clashes, UN Relief Official Urges Factions to Act Humanely

New York, May 30 2006 2:00PM

Reacting to reports of indiscriminate shelling of civilian populations and medical facilities in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu – with dozens dead in the last few days – a senior United Nations official today called on the warring factions to spare the lives of those not involved in the hostilities.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, voiced deep concern at the reports of violence against residents and said he was “shocked” at the targeting of hospitals, calling this a blatant violation of the basic rules of international humanitarian law in a statement released in Nairobi.

He urged the warring parties to “spare the lives of those not involved in the hostilities and to take all the necessary measures to prevent unnecessary human suffering.”

Since the beginning of the year some 1,500 conflict-related war-wounded have been admitted to Mogadishu’s two main hospitals, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Due to the intensity of the recent fighting, an increased number of civilian casualties have been unable to reach medical facilities.

Mr. Laroche reminded the warring factions that “any deliberate attempt to prevent wounded or civilians receiving assistance and protection during fighting in the city may constitute elements of future war crimes.”

He further warned that the fighting has the “potential to spread into other areas of southern Somalia leading to further aggravation of the humanitarian crisis at a time when stability is needed for the success of the humanitarian drought response in the region.”

The Humanitarian Coordinator said it is “ethically unacceptable for fighting to be occurring in Mogadishu at a time when southern Somalia is experiencing a humanitarian emergency.”

Echoing Mr. Laroche’s concern, the UN Special Adviser on Internal Displacement today said the recent conflict in Somalia could accelerate into a major humanitarian and political disaster unless the international community ceased ignoring developments unfolding in the country.

The problem of insecurity compounded by drought in Somalia was on the list of the “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About” released by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) on 15 May.

Speaking in Nairobi after a week-long mission to Somalia, Dennis McNamara described the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as among the worst he had seen in Africa. “Their condition was sub-standard in every respect,” he said.

The UN estimates that the country has between 370,000 and 400,000 IDPs.

Mogadishu is the only capital in the world where the UN does not have access for international humanitarian staff due to insecurity – this despite an estimated 250,000 internally displaced living in the city. The current fighting in and around the area has displaced thousands of people, many of whom have fled to more stable regions of the country or crossed the border into Kenya.

Mr. McNamara expressed disappointment in the neglect of Somalia and its IDPs by both the international community and the press. Describing the media as an essential tool in getting governments to act, he said, “If Mogadishu was Sarajevo, the world press would be clamoring to get there.”

The UN official also noted that only 40 per cent of the $330 million international appeal for Somalia had been met by donor countries. With the bulk of that going to food aid and the remainder to be targeted for protection of IDPs, agriculture and education, Mr. McNamara said the sum was “insufficient to address these problems effectively.”
He also took Somali local authorities to task for not meeting their responsibilities with regard to the internally displaced in their regions. While acknowledging the need for the UN to be more actively involved with the internally displaced, he stressed that the Somali authorities had primary responsibility. “In some areas, the authorities were resisting agencies providing even sanitation in camps,” he said.

The Special Adviser had visited settlements for the internally displaced in Bossaso, Hargeisa, Baidoa and Merka – only 90 kilometres from war-torn Mogadishu. It was the first time in seven years a UN plane had landed on the Merka airstrip.

On Friday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan deplored the loss of life and suffering caused by the renewed violence and called on both sides to enter into an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

ENDS

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