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"Somalia in a state of war"


The Islamist leaders of Mogadishu warn that they consider themselves at war now with Ethiopa.

Somalia is now in a state of war. That was the warning from Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys in Mogadishu as his militias clashed with pro-government fighters for a second day.

Only yesterday, both sides agreed to a ceasefire and talks after meetings with EU envoy Louis Michel.

But the deal broke down within hours and Sheik Aweys called on his countrymen to take part in the struggle against Ethiopia, whose troops are reported to be fighting on the government's side.

Sue Turton reports on the latest violence in Somalia and explains how it's dragging in neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa

‘Somalia at war against Ethiopia’

BAIDOA, Somalia: Somalia’s Islamists are at war against Ethiopia not the government, a hardline Islamist leader said on Thursday, as fighting raged for a third day between his forces and pro-government troops.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who was speaking to Reuters by telephone, also accused Ethiopia of attacking the Islamists in southern Somalia. Three days of fighting with rockets, artillery and machineguns have increased fears of a devastating Horn of Africa war that could suck in rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea, who diplomats say are conducting a proxy war there.

The most sustained combat so far for control of a nation in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, follows two months of increasingly violent skirmishes along a frontline snaking across Somalia. Aweys’s declaration came hours after he called the fighting around the government’s encircled stronghold, Baidoa, “a small incident” and a top European Union envoy said the two sides had agreed to stop fighting and resume peace talks.

Thursday’s shelling seemed to scuttle the shuttle diplomacy mission by EU aid chief Louis Michel, who flew into Baidoa and later to Mogadishu to try to push the two sides back to the bargaining table.

“The Somali government and the Islamists do not have heavy artillery pieces-that shows Ethiopia is at war with us,” said Aweys, whom Washington says has links to al Qaeda.

Somalia: Aid Agencies Urge Unrestricted Humanitarian Access Amid Tension and Rising Conflict

ATLANTA - December 21 - Three international humanitarian agencies, providing relief and long-term development in south central Somalia to approximately 1.5 million people, are appealing to all actors in Somalia to cease hostilities and resume peace talks as quickly as possible. Furthermore, the agencies urge all parties to ensure unrestricted humanitarian access to those who are suffering from the effects of fighting, recent flooding and months of prolonged drought.

CARE, Save the Children UK and World Vision International are among the largest humanitarian agencies working in south and central Somalia, addressing the priority needs of flood-affected populations in the regions of Hiran, Lower Shebelle, Gedo and Lower and Middle Juba. Recent flooding after months of drought, compounded by the threat of war, is likely to displace over 1 million vulnerable people and create a new surge of refugees in neighboring countries.

"Close to 1 million people have been seriously affected by a series of multiple natural disasters," says Paul Daniels, assistant country director for CARE in Somalia. "Thousands have lost their homes, cattle and crops. Heavy rains have broken river banks, washed away access roads and swallowed up anything in sight."

This scenario could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region, say the three aid agencies. In recent months, more than 35,000 Somali refugees have arrived in Kenya, putting additional pressure on the already crowded Dadaab refugee camps.

The rains have rendered many areas of Somalia inaccessible, requiring air drops and boat delivery to get humanitarian aid to people who stayed in their villages. The bad conditions of the roads and the rising tensions are greatly slowing down the delivery of food. Recently, a U.N. convoy carrying humanitarian items from Mogadishu to Wajiid took 29 days to travel a 90km stretch of road, typically a 24-hour trip.

Graham Davison, World Vision Somalia's operations director, adds: "The communities we work with, especially in Middle Juba, are already vulnerable. Most of them are recovering from a food crisis that has been compounded by the floods. World Vision is reaching about 90,000 flood victims in Middle Juba. We request safe and secure access to enable us to carry out our humanitarian work."

A resumption of peace talks between the Transitional Federal Government and the Council of Somali Islamic Courts must be vigorously pursued in order to achieve lasting peace for the people of Somalia and their children.

Though the three aid agencies have scaled up their relief efforts to respond to the recent floods, the organizations have expressed concern about the safety of their teams on the ground since they are operating in a high risk environment.

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