Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Friday, 25 July 2008 16:36 UK

Somalis flee town amid fighting

A Somali woman holds a child as she and others receive food at an aid distribution center in the outskirts of Somalia"s capital, Mogadishu on July 21, 2008
Up to a third of Somalia's population needs food aid

Most of the residents of a town in Somalia have now fled after clashes between Ethiopian forces and Somali Islamist fighters.

At least 19 people have died in the fighting in Beledweyne, which broke out on Thursday and continued on Friday.

Ethiopian troops came under attack from insurgents in the town, 350km (210 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu.

Residents said the clashes raged for a second day with the rival sides firing artillery shells at each other.

Ethiopian forces seized a bridge in the centre of the town, which was later recaptured by insurgents - in a round of heavy artillery shelling.

'Bury the dead'

"There is nowhere to take the injured people," local elder Ugas Hassan Ugas Yusuf Idiris told the BBC.

"There is nowhere to bury the dead. Only God knows why this is happening. The worst thing at the moment is the shelling - it is killing people and destroying homes. No-one can walk on the streets and no-one can leave their houses," he said.

Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia in late 2006 to help dislodge Islamists who had taken control of much of south and central Somalia.

map of somalia

Ethiopia continues to back the country's weak transitional government.

The insurgents have vowed to fight on until Ethiopian forces pull out of Somalia.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that a million people will go hungry in Somalia next month unless naval escorts are found for a ship carrying food aid currently in South Africa.

Many ship owners are wary of sending their ships into Somali waters because of the risk of being attacked by pirates.

The WFP has warned that the current fighting threatens to wreck all efforts to resolve a humanitarian emergency that could soon rival Somalia's famine in the early 1990s.

According to one estimate, more than 8,000 civilians have been killed and one million forced from their homes since the start of last year by fighting between the interim government and Islamist insurgents.

Somalia has experienced almost constant civil conflict since the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre's regime in January 1991.

Successive droughts have left an estimated 2.5 million in need of food aid.

The UN expects that figure to rise sharply if droughts and insecurity continue.


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