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New Somalia offensive forces thousands of civilians to flee

New military escalation in Somalia risks harming civilians and undermining efforts to recover from famine, as the AU military force (AMISOM) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) launched a major new offensive in an area where 400,000 people are living in densely populated camps. Oxfam partners report thousands of civilians have already fled the area, known as the Afgooye Corridor, and reported more heavy fighting and displacement throughout Thursday night.

Oxfam called on all parties to the conflict in Somalia to avoid use of excessive and indiscriminate force, respect international humanitarian law, and minimise the fallout of any military action on civilians.

The Afgooye Corridor was among the regions of Somalia affected by famine and has only recently begun to show signs of recovery.

“People in Afgooye have been among the worst affected by the famine and are still extremely vulnerable. The last thing they need now is an increase in fighting that places them in the crossfire, forces them to flee their homes again and cuts them off from aid and livelihoods,” said Senait Gebregziabher, the head of Oxfam’s Somalia programme.

An Oxfam partner said:

“We passed thousands of people fleeing the fighting on foot. We have never seen such a massive influx of people on the move at one time. People are reporting deaths and damage to property as a result of the clashes and endless shelling. They are heading now to safer locations in Mogadishu.”

Another said:

“I’ve seen hundreds of trucks, cars and donkey carts packed with mattresses and other household utensils. Some neighbourhoods are completely empty.”

With key discussions on the future of AMISOM taking place next week at the UN Security Council and the London Somalia Conference, Oxfam said the AU force, Somalia National Security Forces, allied groups, and their donors, have an obligation to ensure that every effort is made to minimise harm to civilians.

Plans to set up a civilian casualties unit for AMISOM to track, report on and respond to casualties must be urgently implemented. Donor countries supporting AMISOM should ensure all troops receive sufficient training in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) from qualified civilian staff, and establish an independent mechanism set up to monitor IHL compliance by all parties to the conflict.

“Somalia is an incredibly challenging context, but troops must avoid any actions likely to cause civilian casualties or displacement. If the world is serious about keeping Somali civilians safe, then giving troops and government forces thorough training in international humanitarian law and monitoring civilian casualties must be urgently incorporated into the next AMISOM mandate,” said Gebregziabher.

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