Friday, 4 March 2011

Fighting in Somalia border region displaces thousands

Al-Shabab militants

There has been renewed fighting in the Somali border town of Beled Hawo in recent weeks, leading to at least 20 deaths and 6,000 people being displaced.

Fighting for control of the border town between Islamist militant group Al-Shabab and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, supported by the African Union (AU) and the Ahlu-Sunna militia groups is not new: Al-Shabab took control of the town in clashes in October 2010, which led to at least 60,000 people being displaced.

According to a 2nd March report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), fighting resumed in Beled Hawa around the 20th February and intensified over the course of the week. According to Somalia's Bar Kulan radio Ahlu-Sunna militias attacked several bases of Al-Shabab insurgents located at the outskirts of Beled Hawo.

Within days, Beled Hawo was reported to be a 'ghost town' with most resident either fleeing to calmer parts of Somalia's Gedo region, or across the border to Kenya. Fighting, however, was reported in Burta village, a village 30km from Beled Hawo, and even across the border in Kenya.

A temporary ceasefire along the border on 27th February allowed the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) to start the registration of refugees and within days over 6,000 Somali asylum seekers had registered in and around Mandera, a Kenyan town near the border. OCHA reports that at least 5000 Kenyans have also been displaced. There are unconfirmed reports of some Somalis being stranded at Border Point One (no man's land) and having difficulties accessing Kenya. The KRCS reports that at least one person has died at Border Point One.

"One woman has been reported dead at Border Point One and 10 casualties are being treated at Mandera District Hospital," Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said in a statement.

Bar Kulan reported on 1st March that Kenyan security forces had closed the border and brought armored vehicles and tanks to the border. This seems to have been in response to threats by Al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has accused Nairobi of allowing Ethiopian troops to use its territory as a staging ground for attacks on them in Somali territory, a claim Nairobi denies.  Whether the closed border means refugees have not been able to get across to Kenay is not clear.

Commissioner of Gedo region from the Somali TFG Mohamed Abdi Kalil accused, on 2nd March, Al-Shabab militants in Beled Hawo of burning residential houses in effort to displace people.

Renewed fighting broke out on or before Thursday 3rd March, according to Press TV. They reported that 20 people have died, and 40 people have been injured, but have not said who they are. Bar Kulan also reported renewed fighting, and have said it is taking place in the centre of town. There have been reports of gun shots and mortar attacks. They have speculated that there are probably no civilian deaths as most civilians have, by now, fled Beled Hawo.

The fighting in the border region is part of a larger attack by the TFG and AU forces, and they have recently seized some strategic positions in Mogadishu from Al-Shabab. Who will end up victorious in Beled Hawo is not yet clear, but it is certain that the renewed fighting has caused a humanitarian emergency and seriously unsettled the border region.

Sources: Relief Web, Bar Kulan, Press TV, Axadle OCHA

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

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