Mogadishu civilians endure near daily atrocities: U.N.

GENEVA Tue Jun 9, 2009 8:28am EDT

Residents stand around a car destroyed after a bomb exploded on Nasib-Bundo road in Mogadishu June 7, 2009. REUTERS/Mowlid Abdi

Residents stand around a car destroyed after a bomb exploded on Nasib-Bundo road in Mogadishu June 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mowlid Abdi

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Civilians in Somalia's capital Mogadishu are enduring near daily atrocities from shelling to rape and hostage-taking, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

More than 117,000 people have fled the city since May 8 when the latest round of fighting between government forces and rival Islamist groups erupted, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.

More than 200 people are believed to have been killed in the last month alone, mostly civilians, and hospital reports indicate some 700 were wounded in the clashes, it said.

"It is clearly a critical humanitarian situation with regular atrocities being committed -- with shelling of civilians, widespread rape and hostage-taking," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing.

"Serious atrocities are taking place almost on a daily basis with enormous suffering for the civilian population."

An Islamist insurgency that broke out in early 2007 -- the latest in 19 years of conflict in Somalia -- has killed around 18,000 civilians and thousands more fighters.

"The situation seems to be getting worse and worse," Spindler said.

It was increasingly difficult for the UNHCR to reach displaced civilians due to the deteriorating security situation which has severely hampered its access and activities.

The UNHCR has been forced to put on hold a distribution of life-saving aid to 30,000 displaced near Kilometer 13, on the southeastern outskirts of Mogadishu, he said. This was due to heavy fighting for the control of the main road from the capital to the Afgooye district.

"UNHCR is appealing to the belligerents to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population," Spindler said.

The conflict has drawn foreign jihadists into Somalia, enabled piracy to flourish offshore and unsettled the whole region, putting East African neighbors on high security alert.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)

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