Nearly 9,500 Somalis die in insurgency-group

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Fighting in Somalia has killed 838 people since June, local rights activists said on Tuesday, bringing the total to have died in an insurgency that began early last year to 9,474.

The Mogadishu-based Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation has been tracking the casualties since Islamist fighters launched an Iraq-style rebellion against the Western-backed interim government and its Ethiopian military allies early in 2007.

"We have recorded 838 civilian deaths between June and today, with 1,329 injured," Elman's vice chairman, Yasin Ali Gedi, told Reuters in an interview.

"Fifty-three people have been abducted in that time, all of them aid workers except for two foreign journalists."

More than 100 women are known to have been raped since June, he said, but the real number is thought to be much higher.

Tens of thousands more families had been added to the 1 million people already uprooted by the fighting.

Aid workers say the violence has cut their access to increasingly desperate communities, and that drought, hyper-inflation and high fuel and food costs are stoking the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.

Last month, a report for the United Nations said the number of Somalis needing aid had leapt 77 percent since January to more than 3.2 million, or over a third of the population.

It said the Horn of Africa nation was suffering the worst insecurity it had seen since the early 1990s when Somalia collapsed into anarchy following the toppling of a dictator.

A tentative peace deal that was agreed between the government and part of the opposition in June at U.N.-led talks in Djibouti has had little impact on the ground.

A small African Union peacekeeping force of 2,200 Ugandan and Burundian troops has been unable to stem the chaos.

Two Ugandan soldiers were killed in separate roadside bombings in the capital on Sunday and Monday.

One hardline Islamist group, al Shabaab, has vowed to stop planes landing at the city's airport after midnight on Tuesday.

The group, which Washington says has close ties to al Qaeda, appears to have stepped up its attacks, and widened its range of targets, since being officially listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States earlier this year. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Barry Moody)


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