NAIROBI, 4 January 2010 (IRIN) - Thousands of families have fled Somalia's central town of Dusamareb, the regional capital of Galgadud, after a weekend of fighting between Islamist groups killed dozens and left many others injured, locals told IRIN.
On 2 January, Al-Shabab attacked Dusamareb, 500km north of the capital Mogadishu, and captured it from Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a - a traditional Sufi group - for a short while before being forced out again.
"Our estimate is that between 6,000 and 7,000 families [32,000 to 42,000 people] have fled and are now displaced," Sheikh Abdirahman Gedoqorow, a religious leader, told IRIN on 4 January.
Most of the displaced are scattered across rural villages and towns in the region, he said.
Gedoqorow said those displaced were facing difficult conditions due to insufficient assistance in the areas to which they had fled. "There is no one out there helping them and the area has been ravaged by drought."
He said the displaced "desperately" needed shelter material, food and water, the most urgent requirement.
Rising death toll
A local leader estimated that 50 people had so far died in the fighting and at least 80 had been injured. However, a journalist, who requested anonymity, said the death toll was likely to be higher.
"The majority of those who died were from the invading [Al-Shabab] group," the journalist said.
The two groups have been battling for control of the country's central regions since Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a routed Al-Shabab from the area in December 2008.
The journalist added that Al-Shabab had since been reported to have left the area. "They are nowhere near Dusamareb. They took a beating on Saturday [2 January]."
Dusamareb, a town of about 40,000, has in the past three years hosted thousands of displaced people from Mogadishu. "Whether residents or IDPs, almost 80 percent are now displaced," the journalist added.
While acknowledging that aid agencies would be reluctant to come to the aid of the displaced - given the insecurity - Gedoqorow said agencies seeking to help should contact community leaders.
"Despite rumours, the situation now is under control and we have complete security in the town," he said. "No one should be afraid."
Sporadic fighting has been going on across the country since Ethiopian troops withdrew in December 2008, pitting African Union-backed government forces against Islamist insurgents.
Aid workers estimate that at least 3.6 million Somalis need assistance countrywide while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that up to 1.5 million Somalis are displaced.
Abdirazaq Moalim, the head of the education department in Dusamareb, told IRIN all schools in the town were closed as most students had stayed away.
"The students have not returned yet and we are not sure when they will," Moalim, who also fled with his family, said.
He said there was a general fear of Al-Shabab returning.
Moalim said many of the displaced had gone to areas with very little water. "I am carrying five [20-litre] jerry cans of water to the displaced in Eil Barkad [10km north of Dusamareb]," he said.