9 June 2009 A new approach is well overdue for Somalia, the top United Nations envoy to the Horn of Africa nation said today, as the world body's refugee agency reported that a fresh wave of thousands of people have fled the capital to escape continued fighting.
“The time has come, and it is long overdue, to initiate a new approach to the crisis,” Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, told a two-day meeting in Rome of the International Contact Group on Somalia.
“Billions of [United States] dollars have been spent for or in that country over the past 10 years. Still we have a crisis. This is not a good investment of your tax payers' money,” he said. “The results are a reminder of the Ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus who was constantly pushing a rock to the summit of the mountain before watching it role back to its original starting place. We have to stop that never ending task with a lasting peace solution.”
Mr. Ould-Abdallah, who chairs the Group, said that in the new approach, state institutions need to be restarted; the army and police should be rebuilt; the Central Bank needs to be helped; and “impunity must be addressed and human rights violators, including those who kill and kidnap journalists and aid workers, condemned.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called on warring parties in Somalia to guarantee the safety of civilians, with thousands of Somalis having escaped “some of the heaviest and bloodiest street battles” in the capital, Mogadishu, since violence erupted between Government forces and opposition groups on 8 May.
William Spindler estimated that over 117,000 people have been displaced by the clashes. “UNHCR is gravely concerned about the violence and the fact that it is further aggravating an already desperate humanitarian situation on the ground,” he said.
A hospital was forced to close temporarily due to ensure the safety of its scarce medial staff, while UNHCR's operation to feed 30,000 people on the south-eastern outskirts of the capital was halted due to fighting for the control of the main road from Mogadishu.
“The manner in which civilians are being victimized by this conflict is unacceptable,” Mr. Spindler said. “Parties to the conflict in Mogadishu are fighting with no regard for the safety of civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian and human rights principles. UNHCR is appealing to the belligerents to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population.”
The majority of the displaced are women and children, many fleeing with very few belongings, and having to endure extremely difficult circumstances, he added.
“Women are particularly vulnerable,” the spokesperson said. “There are reports of rape and sexual exploitation during their flight and in places of refuge. These risks are exacerbated by the limited humanitarian assistance available.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue