UN fears Somalia 'catastrophe'

Increasing violence coupled with drought could claim thousands of lives.

    A local human rights group says almost 100 people died in last weekend's clashes in Mogadishu [AFP] 

    About 2.5 million people are in urgent need of assistance amid the worst fighting in recent months and the worst drought for a decade, she said.

    Hundreds flee

    Hundreds of people have fled Mogadishu after clashes on Saturday and Sunday left the capital's streets littered with dead bodies.

    According to the local Elman human rights group at least 98 people died in the violence.

    However, Sheikh Ibrahim Suley, a spokesman for the Islamic Courts Union which controlled Mogadishu and much of the south until late 2006, said the real death toll was much higher.
    Factbox: Somalia


    Somalia has not had an effective government since Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

    The Islamic Courts Union seized Mogadishu from the control of warlords in June 2006.

    The transitional government, along with Ethiopian troops, defeated the Islamic Courts in late 2006.

    About 6,500 people were killed in violence in Mogadishu in 2007.

    The 250,000 civilians camped outside Mogadishu are considered to be the world's biggest group of internally displaced people.

    "The Ethiopians killed around 200 people and kidnapped 160 others including 41 Quranic students," he told Reuters.

    "We will continue fighting the Ethiopians and those under the protection of their tanks. We call on them to repent."

    He also said talks with the government that the UN had been attempting to broker in neighbouring Djibouti had been postponed indefinitely as a consequence of the violence.

    Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reported that militias allied to Somalia's transitional government recaptured Guba from the al-Shabaab movement on Tuesday.

    Fighters from the group, which was part of the Islamic Courts Union, had capured the southern port town the previous day.

    "The town is now under our control. On both sides, five died and eight were wounded," Abdisalan Hassan Bootan, one of the fighters loyal to the government, told Reuters.

    Ethiopian troops moved into the country in 2006 to help the Somali transitional government to force out the Islamic Courts Union.

    They have been under near daily attacks from anti-government fighters and local clans ever since.

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