Page last updated at 21:14 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Thousands flee Somalia fighting, says UN refugee agency

Members of al-Shabab conduct military exercise
Insurgents already control much of Mogadishu and southern Somalia

Thousands of people have fled Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, since Wednesday, the UN refugee agency has said.

"Since the beginning of February, over 8,000 people have left the city to escape the fighting," spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.

"We are stepping up our preparedness to intervene and deliver emergency relief to the affected population as soon as the security situation permits."

For months now, fighting has been an almost daily occurrence in Mogadishu.

Some 24 people have been killed and another 40 injured since Wednesday, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ms Fleming warned of the difficulties posed by working in a war zone: "As with other humanitarian actors, our own access is affected by conflict."

'Fragile state'

Despite reports of violent clashes between government troops and the Islamist group al-Shabab, the UN Special Representative for Somalia congratulated the transitional government on its work over the past 12 months and urged it to continue its efforts to restore peace and stability to the country.

"Unfortunately, they have had to spend time and resources trying to stop the violent attacks by extremists who oppose all their attempts to bring normality back to the country," said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.

"Many people recognize that Somalia is moving from being a failed state in conflict to a fragile state with major development and reconstruction needs," he added.

Somalia has been wracked by violence for much of the past 20 years. It has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

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