Fighting escalates 'humanitarian crisis' in Somalia

Battles with Islamist insurgents over six days have left hundreds dead as diplomatic peace efforts falter.

Violence between Islamist insurgents and forces supporting the Somalian government continued unabated in Mogadishu, Monday, as the fighting entered a sixth consecutive day. Hundreds of people have been killed and tens-of-thousands more remain trapped in the capital by what eyewitnesses say is the "worst fighting in 15 years."

The Associated Press reports that battles between Ethiopian troops and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) still rage in the Somali capital, as the two groups pound each other "with machine-gun fire, mortars, tank shells and heavy artillery."

The United Nations said the fighting had sparked the worst humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged country's recent history, with many of the city's residents trapped because roads out of Mogadishu were blocked.

The AP suggests that the upsurge in violence may have in fact been spurred by pending peace efforts. Western diplomatic and Somali government sources told the AP that Ethiopian and Somali troops were trying to break the insurgency before a national reconciliation conference, originally planned for this week. The meeting has been rescheduled for next month.

Fighting between rebels and Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia's transitional government has been ongoing since the Ethiopian forces entered the country in December 2006. They quickly toppled the UIC, which had ruled Somalia for several months, but Ethiopian and government forces still face an insurgency made of fragmented Islamist militas and members of the Hawiye clan, which supported the UIC.

The International Herald Tribune writes that some 320,000 residents have fled Mogadishu since an earlier round of heavy fighting in February, and now live in refuge camps surrounding the city. The ongoing violence, however, has hampered humanitarian efforts for the refugees, prompting the UN's concerns.

Fatality figures for the recent fighting vary widely, but the most conservative estimates put the toll from the last month near 1,000, with 200 people killed in the last week.
Most of the victims are civilians caught in a cross-fire of shelling between insurgents and government troops. Entire city blocks and countless homes have been leveled.

The violence in Somalia is further complicated by the government of Eritrea's decision to withdraw from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a bloc of seven Horn of Africa nations. IGAD, while nominally an economic group, has focused largely on peacemaking efforts in the region. Eritrea announced the decision Sunday on the website of its Ministry of Information.

The Government of Eritrea was compelled to take the move due to the fact that a number of repeated and irresponsible resolutions that undermine regional peace and security have been adopted in the guise of IGAD. As such, the Eritrean government deemed it fit not to be party to developments that hold one accountable both legally and morally, the Ministry added.

Reuters writes that Eritrea's decision is "the latest sign of deteriorating relations between [the government in]Asmara and regional countries over Somalia where hundreds died in fighting this week."

A meeting of IGAD foreign ministers two weeks ago in Kenya became a forum for the festering feud between Ethiopia and Eritrea, still bitter over their 1998-2000 border war and locked in what many see as a proxy war in Somalia. ...
...Somalia and ally Ethiopia accuse Asmara of undermining the interim government by giving aid to insurgents involved in some of the worst fighting in Mogadishu in 15 years.
Eritrea blames the United States and Ethiopia for "irresponsible" interference in Somali affairs after Addis Ababa and Somali government troops ousted Islamists in a war over the New year.

Information Minister Ali Abdu told Reuters later that it was only a "temporary withdrawal." He also accused IGAD of being "manipulated by external forces." Though Mr. Abdu did not name those forces, Eritrea in the past has accused the US of interfering in the Horn of Africa.

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