Nairobi - Hundreds of mourners bade a last farewell on Thursday to an elderly Italian nun shot dead in Somalia - as her fellow sisters vowed not to abandon their humanitarian work despite the dangers.
"The (Somali) people love us, they want us. We know the risks, but we will go back soon to continue our work," said Sister Gianna Irene Peano during the funeral at a packed Catholic church in Nairobi.
Her colleague, Leonella Sgorbati, was gunned down on Sunday at a Mogadishu children's hospital in the latest spate of violence in the conflict-torn Horn of Africa nation.
The nun's death, followed by Somalia's first known suicide bombing in an attempt to kill President Abdullahi Yusuf, have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence in Somalia, already suffering 15 years of lawlessness.
"She was in agony at the end, but she did not complain.
'Forgive, forgive, I forgive'
In fact, she said 'Forgive, forgive, I forgive'," added Peano, who was at Sgorbati's side when she died from her wounds, but had no idea who the killers might be.
At Thursday's service, representatives of Sgorbati's missionaries of the consolation order, based in Nepi near Rome, were joined by senior Catholic figures from around Africa, regional officials and diplomats in an emotional ceremony.
Amid speculation the nun's death might have been a result of anger at Pope Benedict's remarks on Islam, the Pontiff sent a message urging mourners "not to be prisoners of religious or ethnic hatred", but to "take an example from the life of sister".
In a sermon, Giorgio Bertin, bishop of Djibouti and Somalia, noted the smile on the face of Sgorbati, whose body was laid out for viewing.
He too urged mourners to draw positive lessons from her years working for the poor in Somalia and Kenya.
'Christians, Muslims must die together'
"Her life shows that a new earth is possible, that a new Somalia is possible," said Bertin, adding it was probably no coincidence a Somali bodyguard died with her.
"The death of an Italian with a Somali, a European with an African, a white with someone almost black, a Christian with a Muslim, a woman with a man, tells us that it is possible to live together as we die together," he added.
Sgorbati, 65, had worked for the consolation order since 1963, spending three decades in Kenya before transferring to Somalia where she taught nursing at the SOS children's hospital.
Often warned of the threat, the nuns had in the past also suffered a kidnapping and bomb. "I hope Sister Leonella will be the last of the martyrs for Somalia," added Bertin.
After the service, Sgorbati was buried in a graveyard at a village in the hills north of Nairobi. Fellow nuns wept and scattered flowers on the coffin.
The United Nations' special envoy to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, appealed to all involved in the current standoff between Mogadishu-based Islamists and Yusuf's provincial-based interim government to work for peace.
"I wish I could paint a bright picture for Somalia today, but there are too many clouds. ...I appeal once again to everyone... to give this peace process a chance."
The Islamists, who took Mogadishu and a swathe of south Somalia earlier this year, have met twice with Yusuf's government for talks in Khartoum aimed at an eventual power-sharing deal for the nation of 10 million.
But analysts say the two sides remain far apart, and the recent violence - with the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-style attacks - have probably worsened that.
Somalia has been without central government since warlords ousted a dictator in 1991.
Somalia - Violence Reigns in Absence of State Institutions
The shooting dead on Sunday of an Italian missionary sister in Mogadishu was followed on Monday by an assassination attempt on transitional President Adullahi Yusuf in Baidoa.
The bombing took place near Parliament in Baidoa, where Somalia's transitional government is based. The United Nations reported that 11 people were killed in the blast.
The UN said on Tuesday that some 3,400 Somalis, mainly women and children, had fled to Kenya to escape fighting between Islamists and warlords, bringing the number of refugees so far this year to over 26,300.
Somalia has not had a functioning national government since the regime of President Muhammad Siad Barre was toppled in 1991. Famine and disease have made the lives of the people vulnerable in a country that is embroiled in fighting between rival warlords.
Following collapse of the state, US marines landed in 1992 near Mogadishu ahead of a UN peacekeeping force sent to restore order and safeguard relief supplies. The UN peacekeeping force, however, left in 1995 having failed to achieve their mission.
Warlord Muhammad Aideed who ran Mogadishu died of his wounds in 1996 and was succeeded by his son, Hussein. Abdulkassim Salat Hassan was elected President of Somalia in August 2000 following a set of meetings between rival clan leaders.
But the transitional administration was of no effect. In May 2001, dozens were killed in Mogadishu's worst fighting in months that pitted the transitional government forces and militia led by warlord Hussein Aideed.
In January 2004 in Kenya, Somali warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament. However, in an outbreak of fighting, more than 100 people were killed in the period of May-June 2004.
In August 2004, the new transitional parliament was inaugurated at a ceremony held in Kenya. Abdullahi Yusuf was elected President.
In June 2005, the Somali government began returning home from exile in Kenya, but there were bitter divisions over where the new parliament in Somalia should sit.
Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi survived an assassination attempt in Mogadishu in November 2005, when gunmen attacked his convoy, killing six people.
Between March and May 2006, the worst violence in almost a decade occurred where scores of people were killed and hundreds injured during fierce fighting between rival militias in Mogadishu.
In June-July 2006, militias loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu and other parts of the South after defeating clan warlords.
In July-August 2006, Mogadishu's air and seaports were re-opened for the first time since 1995.
The transitional government and the Union of Islamic Courts began peace talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum in September 2006.
Earlier this month, talks resumed in Khartoum between Somalia's Transitional Federal Institutions and the Union of the Islamic Courts.
Emergency humanitarian situation persists in southern Somalia
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) issues periodic emergency alerts when a significant food security crisis is occurring, where portions of the population are now, or will soon become, extremely food insecure and face imminent famine. Decision makers should give the highest priority to responding to the situations highlighted by this Emergency alert.
The threat of famine in southern Somalia has subsided, but a widespread humanitarian crisis continues to affect the country. While the number of people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance has decreased from 2.1 million during the first half of 2006, to 1.8 million, the geographic area now facing severe food and livelihood insecurity is wider, after the failure of the main or Gu season rains in parts of Bakool, Hiran and central regions.
The south remains the epicenter of the current crisis. Eighty percent of the people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and livelihood support are found in this area. The Gu season 2006 cereal production is about 113,000 MT which is about 73 percent of the post war average (1995 to 2005). The production this Gu season is the third consecutive below normal harvest in southern Somalia. Though rangeland conditions (water and pasture) have improved in many drought affected areas, livestock productivity and value have not yet improved. Cereal stocks are extremely low and in short supply, thus prices are higher than normal, especially in regions with crop failure, such as Juba Valley (150 percent of normal), Hiran (200 percent of normal) and parts of lower Shabelle regions (125 percent of normal). Global acute malnutrition rates also remain high at over 20 percent (WHZ<-2 or oedema) and have continued to deteriorate since January 2006. Indications of further deterioration are noted in the increased levels of malnutrition in clinics and Therapeutic Feeding Programs (FSAU Nutrition update, August, 2006). Even under the best of conditions, recovery from this and previous crises in the pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in Gedo, Juba Valley and Bakool will take several more seasons.
In key pastoral areas of Hiran and Central regions poor water and pasture conditions have led to extremely poor livestock body conditions and thus poor animal productivity. Low livestock market prices have also affected terms of trade for herders. Recurrent clan conflicts coupled with several seasons of below normal rains have increased the food insecurity of pastoral communities in these regions. The limited presence of the aid agencies in this region makes responding to this situation more difficult.
In the northeast and northwest, the livestock dependent economy recorded substantial improvement due to several seasons of normal rainfall, improved rangeland conditions, a thriving export market and improved terms of trade between livestock and imported cereals. Sustained humanitarian and livelihood support by the aid agencies since 2004 aided the recovery process and helped increase the herd sizes for most of the households.
Given that fact that the dry season (Hagai ____ a lean period for pastoralists) is in progress and food security conditions have not improved in many areas, the negative impact of 2005/06 crisis on productive assets will continue to prevail. Though the secondary rainy season or Deyr (October-December) are expected to be near to below normal, global climate forecasts indicate a weak Elni-Nio that could result in devastating floods in Juba Valley which is part of the epicenter of the drought. Any additional shock would quickly push the region into a more crises.
The 2007 Consolidated Appeal for Somalia aims to assist the most seriously affected vulnerable groups. To date, only half of the $370 million dollar appeal is funded, despite increased contributions from donors. Agriculture, health and education sectors are particularly under funded. Given the severity of the humanitarian conditions in Somalia at this time, it is imperative that the remaining CAP is covered.