Somalia

UN Security Council deplores rising civilian deaths in Somalia

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Deeply deploring the civilian deaths resulting from renewed fighting in Somalia, the Security Council today urged the country's Government to reach out to all segments of the war-torn country's society, while demanding that the warring parties allow relief aid to reach those in need.

In a statement read by Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom, which holds this month's rotating presidency, the 15-member body stressed the Government's need to promote "the widest possible political dialogue across Somalia" and said that in particular, it must "intensify its dialogue with the clans" in the capital Mogadishu.

Since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from the capital and much of the country last December, there has been an upsurge in violence. Clan-based militias have also been involved in the clashes. The break in fighting between warring sides agreed to early this month crumbled when the fighting resumed on 11 April in Mogadishu.

The Council "calls on all parties in Somalia, the region and the wider international community to reject violence, to deny safe haven to extremist elements" and to also cease hostilities immediately and agree to a ceasefire. It also appeals to all sides to pursue any differences they may have with the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) peacefully.

The TFG must convene the National Reconciliation Congress - one that is "truly representative of all segments of Somali society" - as soon as possible, the Council asserted, calling on all parties in the country as well as international partners to assist in paving the way towards an "all-inclusive political process."

The statement appealed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to work in concert with the African Union (AU), the League of Arab States and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to pursue means to bring peace to the country which has had a functioning government for the past 16 years.

Mr. Jones Parry also said the Council recognizes that the role of the African Union Mission to Somalia, known as AMISOM, is vital, and called upon all parties in Somalia and in the region to support and cooperate with it.

In February in a unanimous resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter - which allows for enforcement measures - the Council decided that the operation will support dialogue and reconciliation in the country by assisting with the free movement, safe passage and protection of all those involved with the process.

Citing the resolution in its statement today, the Council said that it is ready to "consider taking measures against those who seek to prevent or block a peaceful political process, threaten the Transitional Federal Institutions by force, or take action that undermines stability in Somalia or the region."

According to UN figures, 340,000 people - roughly one-third of the capital's population - have fled the hostilities in Mogadishu since the start of February, while at least 1,000 have sustained injuries.

The Council voiced its "grave concern" at the deadly violence which has wracked the country and deplored the humanitarian impact of the fighting, in particular the indiscriminate shelling of heavily populated areas in Mogadishu.

UN agencies have reported being thwarted in their efforts to deliver vital aid to suffering civilians by the unstable security situation, with as many as four out of five Somalis in need out of reach.

Last week, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, criticized the TFG and local authorities for making it even harder for aid workers to carry out their daily work by restricting access to area hospitals and imposing unnecessary delays and problems at checkpoints.

Today's statement "demands that all parties in Somalia comply fully with international humanitarian law, protect the civilian population, and guarantee complete, unhindered and secured access for humanitarian assistance." In addition, the Council stressed the importance of free movement and unfettered access for relief workers throughout Somalia to provide aid.

The anguish experienced by civilians and the need to provide them with crucial aid were also the top concerns in an open letter by Eric Laroche, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, to the country's leaders, military commanders, elders and community representatives.

He appealed to leaders to make concerted efforts towards fostering peace and stability in the interest of the Somali people. "The humanitarian community at large is working hard to meet the soaring needs in Somalia," he said. "This, however, will not go far without a commitment from you, that you will honour your moral obligations to facilitate assistance from your communities."

In his 28 April letter, Mr. Laroche also outlined several steps imperative to alleviating the dire humanitarian situation "Somalia is in the middle of a major human tragedy," he wrote, expressing his alarm over reports of abuse, harassment, theft and rape perpetrated on those who have been displaced by the fighting.

"I am deeply concerned about the effects and consequences that the ongoing fighting in Mogadishu is having on an already appalling humanitarian situation in Somalia."

He urged all parties, including Ethiopian forces, to respect international humanitarian law. In particular, he stated that the distinction between civilians and combatants must be maintained and that vital civilian infrastructures such as hospitals must not be targeted by combatants.

Echoing today's Council statement, Mr. Laroche called for safe access for all humanitarian relief workers to reach and protect the populations, and requested that authorities, local leaders, militia and military commanders ensure the safety and security of all aid providers, including the protection of vehicles, equipment and missions.