Somalia: Massive new displacements as power struggle in Mogadishu flares up again

Originally published


Since the rout of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) by Somalia's transitional government and its Ethiopian allies during the last days of 2006, southern Somalia and the capital Mogadishu have slipped gradually back towards the violence and anarchy of recent years. Over 320,000 people have fled Mogadishu between 1 February and 20 April, and at the time of writing, there were no signs of the violence abating. Many of the displaced live in extremely difficult conditions, lacking shelter, food and water. The official number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the country remains at 400,000. But as there is no safe way for aid organisations to gain access to large areas of the country, no proper count has been made in years. Numbers must now be adjusted to over half a million. A recent UN report speaks of almost one million displaced people in Somalia, following 16 years of chaos and violence.

Occasional cease-fire agreements, bringing respite - and allowing the warring parties to regroup and rearm - remained short-lived, and the fighting continued in Mogadishu. Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces are pitted against returning ICU fighters, other Islamist insurgent groups and clan warlords. International diplomatic efforts towards inclusive talks between the antagonists have been unsuccessful so far and the TFG's plans for reconciliation appear fatally flawed, as they do not currently include the Islamist groups. The international aid community's room for action is extremely limited, and while access is being continuously negotiated at the highest levels, it is highly insufficient given the enormous immediate needs of the conflict-affected displaced.

The conflict has resurged in an extremely precarious environment, with hundreds of thousands still directly affected by the consequences of floods, which swept over the riverine areas of south Somalia in November and December 2006 following months of drought. Humanitarian access had already been extremely difficult then, in an atmosphere of mounting tensions. An estimated one million people, almost half of them IDPs, are currently in need of humanitarian assistance, most of them in south and central Somalia. The self-declared Republic of Somaliland has so far remained stable. However, tensions between Somaliland and Puntland regarding the control over parts of Sanaag region have flared up again.

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