Somalia: Death toll rises as fighting continues in Beletweyne

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

NAIROBI, 9 June (IRIN) - At least 30 people have died since inter-clan fighting broke out on Monday in the town of Beletweyne, south-central Somalia.

More than 70 people have been wounded and hundreds more displaced in the violence, now in its fourth day, local sources on Thursday.

The fighting broke out when militias from the Galje'el and Jajele sub-clans clashed on the west side of the town. It was reportedly triggered by a land dispute and revenge killings for the deaths of two Jajele men last week and one Galje'el man on Sunday.

The violence subsided on Tuesday afternoon after elders from a neutral clan intervened, but "resumed with greater intensity on Wednesday", Abdullahi Muhammad, a local journalist told IRIN. "It was the most intense yesterday [Wednesday]."

He added: "Beletweyne has seen fighting before, but never on this scale. It is as though they used the lull on Tuesday to reinforce their positions."

Wednesday's clashes occurred after mediation efforts by a committee set up by a neutral clan failed, Abdullahi said.

The two sides first agreed to a ceasefire on Wednesday, "but later reneged", Shuriye Hussein Hayow, an elder and a member of the committee, said.

When fighting subsided on Tuesday, the mediating committee managed to "bury the dead and take the wounded to hospital", Hayow said.

He said more people are probably affected but remained unaccounted for, as they did not make it to hospital.

The committee also brought to safety families who were stranded in their homes.

"We found people who were trapped in their own homes. They were running out of food and water." Abdullahi said.

He said the majority of those who were killed or injured were civilians, "mostly women and children" caught in the crossfire.

In an effort to reach a ceasefire, the mediation committee invited 10 elders from each side of the conflict to a meeting.

"We are offering to put neutral forces between the fighting parties to ensure that any ceasefire agreement holds," Hayow said. "I am hopeful that this time we will succeed."

Meanwhile, families continue to flee the fighting zone to the relative safety of the eastern side of Beletweyne and surrounding villages.

"The western side of town is like a ghost town. I don't think there will be anyone left if this continues for another day," Abdullahi said.


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