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Somalis wounded in fighting surged in 2010

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 27 Jan 2011 09:46 GMT
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* 6,000 war-wounded treated at Mogadishu hospitals in 2010

* 40 percent were women and children caught in line of fire

* ICRC is one of the only aid agencies in Somalia

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Fighting between Somali forces and Islamist rebels in Mogadishu took a heavy toll in 2010, with hospitals treating the largest number of casualties in at least a decade, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

More than 6,000 wounded people received medical care last year in Keysaney and Medina, the two main hospitals in Somalia&${esc.hash}39;s battered capital, the humanitarian agency said. Nearly 40 percent were women and children caught in the line of fire.

"Severely wounded people arrive at all hours, even in the middle of the night," said Pascal Mauchle, head of the ICRC&${esc.hash}39;s Somalia delegation.

The ICRC, one of the few international aid groups still working in anarchic Somalia, has no figures for the number of people killed in the conflict last year. But the number of people wounded in Mogadishu increased from 5,000 in 2009 and 2,800 in 2008.

"Definitely for a decade it is the highest number," ICRC spokeswoman Nicole Engelbrecht told Reuters on Thursday.

Somalia has been mired in conflict and awash with weapons since the downfall of a dictator 20 years ago.

The Horn of Africa nation has become a haven for jihadists bent on striking the region&${esc.hash}39;s main economies, according to security experts. The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group governs most of southern Somalia.

Threats and demands for payment from Islamic rebels have forced many aid groups, including the U.N.&${esc.hash}39;s World Food Programme, to cease operations in parts of the country.

The United Nations acknowledged on Wednesday that Somalia would miss an August deadline to adopt a new constitution and hold the first elections for decades. [ID:nLDE70P1K7]

In Mogadishu, where the ICRC described fierce fighting between rebels and African Union peacekeepers protecting the Western-backed government, medics are seeing increasing cases of dysentery, diarrhoea and malnourishment.

The ICRC, which has been operating in the country since the late 1970s, provides Somali hospitals with surgical equipment and medicine, pays for salaries and fuel and repairs facilities.

"Both Keysaney and Medina hospitals treat all patients, regardless of their clan and religious or political background," it said in a statement, calling for all sides of the conflict to spare civilians from harm.

Earlier this month, Geneva-headquartered agency distributed food to more than half a million internally displaced Somalis who have been forced to flee their homes. (Editing by Laura MacInnis and Noah Barkin)

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