Renewed clashes in Somalia ahead of major political conference
Sep 3, 2011, 15:21 GMT
Johannesburg - Renewed clashes were taking place in central Somalia Saturday, ahead of a major meeting of the country's political bodies, an international medical humanitarian organization said.
There have been conflicting reports of who has been involved in the fighting. Some media reports said rival clans in the Puntland and Galmudug regions were involved, while other reports said local forces and militants linked to the Islamist al-Shabaab militia were involved.
According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders/MSF), up to 18 people have been killed in the fighting between. MSF officials said many of the injured were being treated at one of the organization's hospitals in the town of Galkayou.
'MSF is extremely concerned about the high number of civilian casualties that this round of fighting has caused,' said MSF project director Rolland Kaya.
Galkayou straddles regions of Puntland and Galmudug. Unlike Somaliland to the north, which seeks sovereignty, the two regions see themselves as federal states within Somalia.
Officials from the two leaders are due to participate in a three-day United Nations-backed conference in the Somali capital Mogadishu. The purpose of the gathering is to map out a plan for Somalia for the next year, including the drafting of a constitution.
It will the first major conference in the war-torn capital in years, and comes a month after the government, with the backing of African Union forces, ousted the al-Shabaab militia from Mogadishu.
'This is indeed Somalia's moment, and this week's meeting could not have come at a more opportune time,' said Augustine Mahiga, the UN special representative for Somalia.
The Horn of Africa nation, which has been without a functioning federal government in two decades of civil war, is also suffering from a worsening famine and drought.
Already, tens of thousands of people have died and 3.2 million others, about one third of the total population, 'are thought to be on the brink of starvation,' according to the UN.
'This is the chance for the people of Somalia to rise above parochial interests and demonstrate their commitment to progress,' said Mahiga.