By Hamsa Omar and Jason McLure
May 21 (Bloomberg) — About 45,000 people have fled Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in the past 12 days as Islamist insurgents step up attacks on the city, the United Nations Refugee Agency said.
Fighting between government forces and the opposition Al- Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam groups erupted in several areas of north-west Mogadishu on May 8, the refugee agency said on its Web site today.
The African Union said the situation in Somalia was “dramatically deteriorating.” A grouping of East African countries called on the UN to impose sanctions on Eritrea for its alleged role in supporting Somali insurgents that have extended their control over southern Somalia in recent days.
The AU blamed the “unprecedented level of violence by insurgents in Mogadishu, its environs, as well as in the central and southern parts of the country” for the crisis, according to a press release today.
Many refugees are heading for Afgooye, south-west of Mogadishu, “swelling the ranks of the sprawling, makeshift camps that have sprung up there in the last two years,” the refugee agency said. Many others are fleeing to Kenya or across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.
Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex has reached a record 272,800, mostly Somalis. That is three times the number for which it was originally designed, “putting enormous pressure on camp facilities and straining its resources,” the statement added.
The six-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development condemned Eritrea “and its financiers who continue to instigate, recruit, train, fund and supply” insurgents in Somalia, according to a statement on IGAD’s Web site following a meeting of foreign ministers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It didn’t say who Eritrea’s financiers may be.
Eritrea, which has brought its economy under state control over the past eight years, has little foreign investment. One of the few sizable investments is by Canada’s Nevsun Resources, which is developing a $250 million gold, copper, and zinc mine at Bisha in western Eritrea that is scheduled to begin production next year.
IGAD also called for the UN to impose a blockade on the southern Somali ports of Merka and Kismayo, which are controlled by insurgents linked to the al-Shabaab militia, and to impose a no-fly zone over much of southern Somalia.
Eritrea has called for the overthrow of Somalia’s UN-backed Transitional Federal Government, which controls portions of Mogadishu and southern Somalia.
Eritrea has also played host to Somali insurgents including Sheikh Hassan Daher Aweys, whose return to Somalia helped instigate last week’s insurgent offensive that succeeded in capturing the town of Jowhar, on a key route from Mogadishu to central Somalia.
Reports by the UN group charged with monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia have accused Eritrea, Ethiopia, the U.S., and other countries of arming factions in Somalia’s 18-year civil war. IGAD, whose members include Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, is currently chaired by Ethiopia, which fought a border war with Eritrea in 1998-2000.
Eritrea suspended its membership in IGAD in 2007, citing the organization’s failure to make Ethiopia comply with a 2002 border commission decision awarding land to Eritrea.
In December, 2006, U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, ousting an Islamist government that briefly controlled the country’s south and installing the TFG. Ethiopia occupied Somalia until January of this year. This week witnesses reported Ethiopian troops had again crossed into Somalia.