August 3rd, 2007 08:32 EST
UNICEF urges Somalia's battling rivals to ensure children's safety as death toll rises
The United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) today voiced distress at the deadly impact of Somalia`s violent conflict on children in Mogadishu, the capital, and called on all parties to ensure their safety and that of other civilians.
At least 20 children have died in the past month from the fighting between the Islamist Courts Union and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), while many others are among the hundreds of thousands who have fled the city, UNICEF spokesperson Veronique Taveau told a news briefing in Geneva.
Late last month, five children were killed while en route to a mosque when one child innocently touched unexploded ordnance, underscoring the lingering danger posed by explosive remnants of war.
UNICEF has been running mine-risk education spots on radio stations covering Mogadishu and surrounding areas for the past two months. It is also supporting training of community-based child protection advocates by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Handicap International.
Since the beginning of June, an estimated 27,000 people have fled Mogadishu, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told the same briefing.
Between February and May, more than 400,000 civilians fled heavy fighting between the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the insurgents in Mogadishu, but 125,000 later returned to the city.
"Many of the people who fled told UNHCR that life was more unbearable than ever in Mogadishu because of the daily violence, making it too dangerous to leave their homes," Mr. Redmond said.
"They say the insecurity is widespread, with constant bombing and gun battles. Mothers are unable to buy food for their children and workers unable to make a living. They also complain that their children cannot attend school and many neighbourhoods are isolated because of insecurity or road closures," he added.
Young men told UNHCR they left the capital for fear of being arrested, claiming that after outbreaks of violence, Government forces sealed off the affected neighbourhood and arrested any young men on the streets.
Two-thirds of the families who have fled over the past two months have settled in the provinces of the Shabelles, immediately surrounding Mogadishu. UNHCR distributed aid to 50,000 people there in April.
Others have fled further north, including 2,600 people who have reached the town of Galkayo, 700 kilometres away in the region of Puntland. The town already hosts 11,000 people who fled Mogadishu between February and May. Some of the most recent arrivals, mostly women and children, reported robberies and some women said they had been raped by armed militiamen and thugs who set up roadblocks along the route.
Last week, UNHCR distributed blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans to 780 families in southern Galkayo. On July 24 July, the agency issued a $48-million appeal to fund its work in Somalia and neighbouring countries until the end of next year.