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U.N. official urges Somalia to allow aid
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY
MOGADHISHU, Somalia, May 12 2007 - Wearing a flak jacket over a blue pinstriped suit, the top U.N. humanitarian official crawled into a hut made of sticks and plastic tarp Saturday and asked the owner how he survives in one of the world‘s most violent cities.
"It‘s not safe here," Dahir said, surrounded by some clothes and a few pots.
Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, left Somalia the same day he arrived rather than spend the night as planned.
At least 400,000 fled Mogadishu during weeks of fighting the pitted the government and its Ethiopian allies against Islamic insurgents. The fighting between March 12 and April 26 killed at least 1,670 people.
"While the fighting was going on we were very, very concerned about the plight of civilians. Clearly it was not the normal respect for humanitarian law," Holmes told the president.
Yusuf told Holmes his government was trying.
"What we did was in self-defense," the president said about the latest fighting. "We had to defend the government."
After the meeting, Holmes said the fighting in the city had violated international humanitarian law. "When you have a pitched battle going on in a city full of civilians, that is not in accordance with the Geneva Conventions," he said.
The U.S. has accused the group of links to al-Qaida, which the courts have consistently denied. The militants reject any secular government, and have sworn to launch an Iraq -style insurgency.
Besides his meeting with Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, Holmes got to see the makeshift camp where Dahir and more than 200 others live in squalor on the former site of the British Embassy in this once-beautiful seaside capital.
He also saw a cholera treatment center, a crumbling white building with small wooden cots for children suffering from the waterborne disease.
Hawa Ali Said said she arrived at the cholera center this week to look after her 2-year-old nephew, Said, who was sprawled on a cot with an intravenous tube in his arm. Her sister‘s other son, 8, had died a day earlier from the disease.
"Said is getting better, but I still see he is ill," she said. "Before he came here he was crying, the diarrhea was terrible. Now, at least, he sleeps."
Somalia‘s life expectancy is 48 years; a quarter of children die before they reach 5. In many areas of Somalia, malnutrition rates are 20 percent or above.
The country has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against each other.
Source: The Associated Press