Somalia

Aid not reaching most Somali war afflicted - UN

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By Jeremy Clarke

NAIROBI, May 14 (Reuters) - Aid workers are only reaching about a third of the thousands of civilians afflicted by Mogadishu's worst fighting for years, the United Nations' top aid official said on Monday after visiting the Somali capital.

John Holmes, the most senior U.N. official to visit the city in a decade, cut short his trip after bombs planted by suspected insurgents killed at least three people during Saturday's visit.

The United Nations says battles between rebels and allied Somali-Ethiopian forces have killed some 1,300 civilians and triggered the worst displacement crisis in the world.

"In terms of numbers and access to them, Somalia is a worse displacement crisis than Darfur or Chad or anywhere else this year," Holmes told a news conference in neighbouring Kenya.

"We estimate we are only reaching 35-40 percent of those in need ... many are already suffering from a cholera outbreak."

The United Nations say more than 300,000 people have fled the seaside city in recent weeks.

Holmes said human rights abuses had clearly taken place, citing fierce fighting that shattered many residential parts of the capital, and the unexplained disappearance of citizens.

"Clearly human rights abuses have taken place, but the government categorically denied reports and accusations of their involvement," he said, adding the government said it would let U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour visit.

There has been relative calm in Mogadishu since the interim government and its Ethiopian military backers declared victory over insurgents two weeks ago, in a move that has encouraged small numbers of Somalis to return home.

But residents still fear the insurgents -- a mix of Islamist fighters and some disgruntled clansmen -- may be regrouping to resist a government they see as propped up by Ethiopia and biased against the city's dominant Hawiye clan.

Holmes said he did not believe he was the target of Saturday's bomb blasts but that they sent a message that the capital remained unstable.

"I do not think you can say this is a recovering city. It is a fairly depressing prospect," he said.

During a brief meeting on Saturday, Holmes urged President Abdullahi Yusuf to dismantle checkpoints at the city limits to let food and aid enter Mogadishu as quickly as possible.

It followed complaints by aid workers who accused the authorities of failing to clear food shipments for distribution. The government has promised to clear any obstacles to providing aid to tens of thousands stricken by the fighting.

In Mogadishu on Monday, African Union (AU) peacekeepers carried out operations in several neighbourhoods, searching for and safely destroying unexploded ordnance from the fighting.

AU spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda said troops found munitions including a 120mm mortar buried in a house and a howitzer shell, usually fired from a truck-hauled launcher.

(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Mogadishu)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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