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On militia patrol in Somalia's war-torn capital
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu (AFP) Aug 22, 2011

Somalia needs to become international 'priority': Red Cross
Geneva (AFP) Aug 21, 2011 - Only when Somalia becomes a priority of the international community will it be able to escape a cycle of famine and violence, the International Red Cross chief said Sunday.

"Somalia must become a priority of the international community," International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger said in an interview published in the Swiss weekly Der Sonntag.

"In Somalia people are exposed to the highest pressures. These are people who have suffered from an armed conflict for years now.

"They live in a country where there is no government infrastructure.

"A precondition for peace is a development policy," Kellenberger said.

The United Nations has described Somalia, where a civil war has been going on since 1991, as facing the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world following severe droughts in the region.

"A development policy will not prevent natural disasters, but a population is much more resistant if general living conditions are better.

"I have been asking myself for years now how much more time is needed until (the international community) becomes committed to a political solution," Kellenberger said.

On August 4, the International Red Cross appealed for 120 million francs (106 million euros, 153 million dollars) to feed 1.1 million people for three months in central and south Somalia, in areas controlled by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

Kellenberger said that "in the past weeks", over 160,000 people had been supplied with food in these areas where other international aid agencies have difficulty accessing.

According to the UN, some 12.4 million people in the Horn of Africa, including parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda are affected by the drought and in need of humanitarian assistance

On Friday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured famine-hit Mogadishu on the first visit by a major leader in almost 20 years, calling the extreme drought ravaging Somalia "a problem for all humanity".

Sprinting through the bombed out buildings in Somalia's famine-stricken capital, gunmen chase a man suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels.

"That one! No, the other man!" the commander shouts, as his heavily armed troops charge down the pot-holed street, AK-47 automatic rifles levelled at the suspect.

In a dangerous city ravaged by war between rival factions for two decades -- this section was wrested from Shebab fighters by a pro-government militia called Ahlu Sunna Waljama two months ago -- nobody seems to trust each other.

Curious children peer out over a broken balcony, and women scurry back into narrow alleyways as screaming gunmen surround the suspect.

"Bring him here!" the commander shouts, standing at his base, a ruined building with sandbags piled in smashed windows for machine gun emplacements, a ragged Somali flag fluttering outside in the warm sea breeze.

This time it is a case of mistaken identity, and the man is released, shaken but unharmed.

Shebab forces withdrew from Mogadishu positions earlier this month after years of battles, but African Union troops have warned the rebels are preparing terrorist or guerrilla style attacks.

"We are protecting our people," said Abullahi Moalim, a commander in Ahlu Sunna -- meaning "the majority" -- who oppose the hardline Islamist Shebab, following instead Somalia's traditional moderate Sufi version of Islam.

"We drove the Shebab out of this area," Moalim added, speaking with a thick American accent -- he grew up in Kansas, before returning to his birth nation to fight in the Ahlu Sunna.

This area, the Hodan district, was one of the hardest fought over areas in the war-racked capital, a former Shebab stronghold adjoining a key road connecting the airport and presidential palace, held by AU-backed forces.

Both sides smashed holes between buildings to allow easier movement out of sight of sniper fire, while Shebab fighters dug extensive tunnel networks under the roads, with hidden holes they used to pop up as surprise firing points.

"It took us ten months to push the Shebab out," said Haj Kuwait, the nom du guerre of an Ahlu Sunna fighter, one of reportedly several hundred in this part of the city.

"They fought us in every street, every house, every day," he said, waving at his house, an apartment block, where two sides are punctured with gaping holes smashed by mortar rounds.

Both sides used heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks to dislodge each others positions, and piles of bullet casings lie in regular piles, each mound representing several hundred dollars worth of ammunition.

"The fighting went on day after day, even RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) did not drive them out from positions, they were very determined," Kuwait added.

Peeling pastel-coloured paint left on crumbling walls of Italian colonial era villas provide a small hint of how this once elegant city -- situated beside the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean -- must have looked before the war.

Cactus plants now sprout out of an open-air cinema, while a theatre is reduced to rubble. Purple bougainvillea plants once grown in gardens now curl over a smashed triumphal monument to long forgotten colonial heroes.

Over 100,000 people have fled into Mogadishu in recent months fleeing extreme drought, which has escalated into famine in several areas, including inside the capital.

Several thousand people are packed into makeshift tent camps in Hodan, living in ragged tents made of plastic sheeting and scraps of material.

"Security is alright," said Ibrahim Madey, who fled famine-struck Lower Shabelle region, watched warily by a gunman, carrying a machinegun and draped in belts of bullets.

"But all my children are sick with diarrhoea, and my baby has measles," he added.

Beside a small mosque destroyed by the fighting, with chunks of masonry ripped from its minaret, new arrivals are putting up basic shelters. Regular crackles of gunfire still ring out.

Residents seem to welcome the gunmen patrol the streets, as long as their families can get enough to eat and are protected.

"Our fears are not about the Shebab now, but about feeding my children," said Huwa Ibrahim, a mother of four.

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NGOs facing aid delivery nightmare in Somalia: MSF boss
Nairobi (AFP) Aug 21, 2011 - Somalia is the world's most challenging terrain for aid workers, according to the head of Doctors Without Borders, one of many groups scrambling to contain the ravages of a historic drought.

"Even with all the lines of communication that we have, we have serious problems accessing the areas where the problem is to do an independent assessment, which is absolutely essential," Unni Karunakara told AFP Sunday.

"Right now we are working around the fringes," said the head of the Paris-based NGO, traditionally one of the first organisations to bring relief to conflict areas and one of the last to leave when the going gets tough.

In recent weeks, Somalia has been the worst hit of several countries in East Africa affected by what the United Nations has described as the region's most severe drought in 60 years.

The international community slowly mobilised to help the millions of people who need food aid to stay alive but delivering aid to a country which is also one of the world's most dangerous is hugely complicated.

The vast Horn of Africa country has been plagued by almost uninterrupted civil unrest for 20 years and has no central authority.

"For me it is the most difficult country. We work in Afghanistan, in Iraq, but we don't have armed guards in these places," Karunakara said.

"In Cote d'Ivoire, where a war was going on, we were conducting our first operation within 36 hours. Here, even getting a car is a negotiation."

Sophisticated clan dynamics make finding the right allies and logistical support a very complicated and perilous process in Somalia.

In addition, until recently, the dominant force in the country was the Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired insurgent group which is fighting the Western-backed government and that expelled foreign aid groups.

The fledgling UN-run emergency food relief operation has so far targeted mainly people who had fled some of the worst affected areas and gathered in the capital Mogadishu.

But Karunakara said bringing the food to some of the Somalis who need it the most, deeper in the country, would prove a even more daunting task.

"The current dialogue is about raising funds and getting supplies to Mogadishu but the real challenge, the last mile problem, is how you get the food from the port to the people who actually need it," he said.

The Shebab pulled out of the half of Mogadishu they controlled earlier in August, making it at least possible for groups such as MSF to organise a humanitarian operation.

But Karunakara said that the myriad warlords and local clan leaders made the local vetting of any decision a slow and painstaking affair.

"Today we are conducting 200 interviews for nurses positions, but each hire has to be discussed with the clan leaders, and they will then nominate people who can be hired or not," he said.

Karunakara said that the absence of any centralised state for two decades also means that there is no scientific data whatsoever for aid groups like his to work with.

The MSF boss painted a bleak picture of the crisis in Somalia, where the UN has officially declared famine for the first time this century, saying that epidemics could spread across camps for the displaced like bush fire.

"The risk is high because people are living in very crowded camps, with very little access to sanitary facilities," he said.

"We are already seeing a high number of skin infections, of eye infections, respiratory infections, acute watery diarrhoea. All this points to a very bad hygienic situation."

MSF launched a measles vaccination campaign in Mogadishu which has covered 3,000 children so far. The group is also due to launch a campaign to prevent cholera outbreaks.

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Somalia's drought 'problem for all humanity': Turkish PM
Mogadishu (AFP) Aug 19, 2011
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured famine-hit Mogadishu Friday on the first visit by a major leader in almost 20 years, calling the extreme drought ravaging Somalia "a problem for all humanity." Somalia has been the worst affected in the Horn of Africa by a prolonged drought and the United Nations has officially declared a famine in five regions of the country, including the ... read more

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