SOMALIA: Hundreds of families displaced by fighting in Baidoa

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A number of people were killed and injured and hundreds of families displaced, after a night of heavy fighting in the southwestern town of Baidoa, the seat of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), witnesses told IRIN on 8 July.

"At around midnight [local time] last night the town came under attack from Al-Shabab [insurgents]. There was so much mortar fire around the presidential compound," said a local resident who requested anonymity.

The clashes were concentrated in and around parts of the town where government offices and Ethiopian army bases are located, said the eyewitness.

"They seemed to be targeting the area near the airport where Ethiopian troops have a base, and the presidential and parliamentary compounds."

The fighting displaced many previously displaced families, who had fled from the violence in Mogadishu and were living in camps near the presidential compound. "Many of them have left their camps and are now scattered around the town," the local eyewitness said.

The source said these families were some of the poorest and most vulnerable in Baidoa. "They were already in bad shape and this will only make their situation worse."

Shiino Moalim Nur, deputy governor of Bay Region, told IRIN the insurgent attacks added to the suffering of the displaced people. "All they achieve is to add to the suffering of the people."

The fighting subsided after a couple of hours. The insurgents withdrew, and the town is reported to be calm but tense on 8 July.

The insurgents have claimed on their website that the attack was “the first of many to come," said the source. Nur, however, said that the security forces were in control.

Baidoa under threat?

Baidoa, the seat of the TFG, was one of the few towns in the country totally under the control of the government and their Ethiopian allies, and therefore has been spared the violence that is a daily occurrence in the capital, Mogadishu.
The insurgents have in the past captured towns and later abandoned them, but last night’s attack may signal their ability to expand their area of operations, said a Somali observer. "It does not augur well for Baidao."

The deputy governor, however, dismissed suggestions that the insurgents pose a threat to Baidoa. "This was a propaganda attack. They don’t have the means to challenge the security forces here," he said.

A combination of conflict, drought and hyperinflation has combined to create a humanitarian crisis in the country. Aid workers estimate 2.6 million Somalis need assistance - a number that is expected to reach 3.5 million by the end of the year if the humanitarian situation does not improve, according to the UN.