Explosion In Somali Refugee Camp After Media Visit

Published January 19, 2012 2:00PM (EST)

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A bomb exploded in a crowded refugee camp in Somalia's capital on Thursday, only minutes after a group of U.N. officials and international journalists left the site. The blast killed two Somalis.

Yasmin Ali, the camp organizer, said one refugee and one Somali soldier died. At least three people were wounded.

Journalists from international agencies like The Associated Press, AFP, BBC and the Spanish newspaper El Pais were on a one-day trip to Mogadishu on Thursday, one day before the six-month mark of the U.N.'s famine declaration in this Horn of Africa country. The blast happened about 20 minutes after the journalists left the camp. There were no senior U.N. personnel on the trip.

African Union and Somali forces for the most part have forced militants from the al-Shabab militant group out of Mogadishu, but pockets of resistance remain and the militants continue to carry out strikes like suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

"I never thought refugee camps would be targeted," said Abdi Warsame, a blast victim, as he lay in a Mogadishu hospital.

"It was an intentional attack. Not no much can be done against those men," he said, referring to al-Shabab, "because they penetrated the camp, so no one can stop them. May Allah bring a power that can stop them."

Somalia, which hasn't had a central government in more than two decades, has long been a dangerous environment for aid groups, the U.N. and journalists. Foreign journalists typically do not move around Mogadishu unless inside an armored vehicle manned with African Union troops or with a private security team.

The U.N. declared a famine in Somalia on July 20. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled the hardest-hit areas of the country for refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and the capital, Mogadishu. The U.K. government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 Somalis died, and a report released Wednesday blamed aid groups and world governments for not responding to the crisis fast enough.

Many of the refugees who spoke to the AP on Thursday said that the men from refugee families have returned home to plant crops after seasonal rains fell in south-central Somalia in recent weeks.

One refugee, 25-year-old Deqo Hassan Mohammed, said she would return home with her husband if she can find the $10 fare it would cost to travel there.

"Things are still hard but better than before," said the mother of five.

Another woman, Halima Haji Mohammed Omar, though, said she does not want to go back, because of the presence of al-Shabab fighters. Omar said al-Shabab tried to conscript her 20-year-old son.

"How can I go back? There is no reason to back when there is still a war," said Omar, whose husband has returned to plant crops. "They beat us, they conscripted our children."

Underscoring the danger of violence in Somalia, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said Thursday it is closing its two largest medical centers in Mogadishu after the shooting deaths of two staffers. The group, which is also known by its French acronym of MSF, said the two 120-bed medical facilities treat malnutrition, measles and cholera.

The closure of the two facilities cuts in half the assistance that the aid group is providing in Mogadishu. MSF will continue to provide medical care in other areas of the capital, as well as in 10 other locations in Somalia.

Two MSF staffers were killed Dec. 29 by a disgruntled, gun-wielding Somali employee suspected of theft and receiving kickbacks.

By Salon Staff

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