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U.N.: Fighting in Somali capital brings 60 deaths, displacement

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • "Casualties and displacement have increased over the past 14 days," U.N. agency says
  • More than 14,000 people leave homes, more than 50 wounded
  • More than 350,000 internally displaced people blanket capital

(CNN) -- At least 60 people have been killed in Somalia's capital and more than 14,000 displaced from their homes during heavy fighting over the last two weeks, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

Somali forces have been battling al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda proxy in the capital of Mogadishu and the rest of the country. The militants are waging a war against the government in an effort to implement a stricter form of Islamic law, or sharia.

"We note with grave concern that the rates of casualties and displacement have increased over the past 14 days," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office said. Along with the deaths, more than 50 people have been wounded, the office said.

The displacement problem is dire through the country. An estimated 1.4 million Somalis are displaced within the country, and more than 580,000 live as refugees in neighboring countries, the agency said. This month's total of displaced people is 17,000.

Mogadishu is bulging at the seams with more than 350,000 internally displaced people -- many of whom are living in overcrowded conditions and on the street under plastic sheets and makeshift dwellings.

"These are the most vulnerable and utterly dependent on scarce aid the humanitarian agencies manage to deliver and meagre remittances from relatives living abroad. Hundreds of children are forced to beg in the streets of the capital and many women beg in the main markets," the U.N. agency said.

The Horn of Africa nation has not had a stable government since 1991, and fighting between the rebels and government troops has escalated the humanitarian crisis in the famine-ravaged country. The U.N.-backed interim government fights the rebels with the help of African Union peacekeepers.

The latest fighting and displacement aggravates an already grave demographic reality: About 43 percent of the Somali population "lives below the extreme poverty line and one in seven Somali children die before the age of 5," the refugee agency said.