, GENEVA, Jan 12 – Thousands have fled fighting in central Somalia this month, adding to the huge wave of displacement and refugee movements from the strife torn east African nation, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
"The widening strife in Somalia is having a devastating effect on the civilian population and sparking increased displacement," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said.
"Aid agencies fear that the growing insecurity, the drought and the suspension of food aid in south central regions could deepen Somalia\’s humanitarian crisis and trigger large-scale influx into the neighbouring and nearby countries," he added.
Some 7,000 people were displaced in clashes between the government-allied Ahlu Sunna Wal Jammaa and the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab militias on January 2 alone, although the full number could be higher, Mahecic said.
More clashes have been reported since then in the area.
Mahecic said the number of Somalis fleeing to other countries has also increased.
In Ethiopia, 3,000 more Somalis were registered as refugees last month and the estimate of new arrivals has gone up from 100 to 150 a day.
The total number of Somali refugees in nearby countries — Kenya, Yemen Ethiopia and Djibouti — has reached 560,000, after 110,000 more Somalis fled their homeland in 2009, the UNHCR said.
Since last week, pro-government forces have battled with the hardline Shebab Islamists, who control large areas of south and central Somalia, killing dozens, mainly fighters.
The radical Islamists, who have vowed to oust the government, have carried out relentless attacks since May, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing thousands of others.