Somalia: pirate show-down overshadows refugee crisis

Russia has dispatched the warship Neustrashimy to intercept a Ukrainian freighter, the Faina, carrying 33 Russian-built tanks and other war material seized by pirates off Somalia while en route to Kenya for an arms delivery. US naval ships are also in the area and “monitoring the situation,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. “I think we’re looking at the full range of options here.” With worldwide pirate attacks surging this year, the hijacking could help rally international support behind France, which is pushing aggressively for decisive action against Somali pirates. The crew of the Faina are being held, and the pirates have warned against any effort to re-take the ship. (AP, BBC World Service, Sept. 26)

Meanwhile, heavy fighting has forced 15,000 people to flee their homes in Mogadishu in the past week, taking the total number of displaced in the Somali capital since January to 160,000, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports. “This week’s fighting in the Somali capital, described by witnesses as the worst since the beginning of the latest insurgency in February 2007, has forced at least 15,000 people from their homes,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists.

Almost half of the displaced have fled west to the town of Afgooye, which is already “jammed” with over 300,000 internally displaced people. “The new wave of displacement in Mogadishu is worsening an already catastrophic situation in a war-torn country where more than 1 million people are displaced,” Redmond warned. Redmond said some 5,000 Somali refugees arrive in the dangerously overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya every month, despite the frontier being formally closed since early 2007. (AFP, Sept. 26)

Heavy fighting is also reported in the southwestern town of Baidoa, where the transition government’s parliament continues to be based. The building that houses the parliament, as well as the homes of MPs came under insurgent mortar attack Sept. 25. (Radio Mareeg, Sept. 25)

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