Friday, April 13, 2007
The fighting that broke out in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Wednesday, prompting more people to flee their homes, has cast a cloud over anticipated reconciliation talks between various political groups.
Many of the families that fled the latest fighting came from areas that were previously unaffected by clashes between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents.
"There was fighting early Wednesday morning and later in the afternoon at Fagah and Jamhuriya areas [north Mogadishu] but the area is quiet today [Thursday]," said one resident. The fighting, he added, erupted when government forces tried to take over a prominent hotel in the area.
Salad Ali Jeele, the Somali deputy defense minister, said the government forces fought back after being attacked. "We were only defending our positions," he told IRIN on Thursday.
Eye witnesses said families in Sii Sii and Arjantiina suburbs, who had not had to leave their homes, began to leave for fear that the fighting would spread to their area. "These are areas where people stayed and now they are also displaced," a local journalist said.
"They are leaving, some to other parts of the city and others going further north to Ceel Macaan [north of Mogadishu]," he added, noting that Wednesday’s fighting was less intense than previous clashes and confined mainly to one area in the north.
Hospital sources told IRIN that at least seven people were killed and more than 40 wounded in the latest clashes. Most of those injured or killed were civilians, said the source.
"I cannot confirm that the talks have been postponed," a top government official said when asked to confirm reports that the proposed national reconciliation talks had been moved from mid-April to May.
The month-long talks, arranged by the transitional government, are intended to reconcile the politicians and pave a way forward for Somalia. Mogadishu is the proposed venue.
However, diplomats have warned that the talks can only have a lasting effect if they are held in a spirit of forgiveness, true reconciliation and with the participation of all the parties involved including the Union of Islamic Courts.
Fears that the talks may not take place in Mogadishu arose after three days of fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents that started on 29 March. At least 1,000 people died and more than 4,000 were wounded.
A ceasefire was agreed between clan elders and the Ethiopians on 1 April, and further talks were due to be held. However, the proposed talks have also stalled. "This is giving some elements a chance to try and derail the ceasefire," said a civil society source.
However, sources said talks between a committee set up by Hawiye elders and Ethiopian commanders were due to resume on Thursday, after stalling for almost a week. The Hawiye are the dominant clan in Mogadishu.
"We are resuming the talks today [Thursday]," said Ahmed Diriye, one of the elders who started the negotiations. A general meeting of the Hawiye to discuss the situation in the city was also due to be held, to be attended by 100 elders and intellectuals.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about 100,000 people have fled the city since February. Of these, 47,000 left after 21 March, and have no access to shelter, water or food. Most of them went to Lower Shabelle, Merka and Qoryooley.
On Wednesday, the NGO, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said several weeks of fighting had raised concerns about the health of Mogadishu residents.
MSF, which has treated 800 cholera patients since the disease was confirmed on 19 March, said worsening violence was making it increasingly difficult for patients to access a treatment centre which opened two weeks ago, and preventing its staff from reaching other areas of the city.
"We are worried about the health situation of a population which has enormous difficulty in accessing the scarce health structures which exist in their surroundings," said Henry Rodríguez, MSF-Spain medical coordinator in Somalia.