MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalis are experiencing near-daily atrocities, including rape, the shelling of civilian areas and fighting that has forced more than 100,000 to flee their homes since May, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.
Since last month, a major offensive by insurgents against Somalia's Western-backed government has killed about 200 people. The insurgents hope to topple the government and install a strict Islamic state.
"It's a critical humanitarian situation, with regular atrocities being committed," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva. "We are particularly concerned about how the fighting is affecting a population that has already endured several decades of war."
Fighting that has pitted Islamist insurgents against the government and its allies has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives in recent years. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, and the U.S. worries that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground.
Observers say the Somali insurgents have been boosted recently by up to 400 foreign jihad fighters who are believed to have come from as far away as Afghanistan. Experts have expressed fears that the foreign Islamic militants could use Somalia as a base for terror.
Also Tuesday, 14 local journalists said they were suspending work because of security concerns. The announcement came two days after masked gunmen killed the director of Radio Shabelle, one of Somalia's largest broadcasters, raising to five the number of journalists killed in Somalia this year.
Radio Shabelle is an independent station that has been broadcasting since March 2003. The company launched a TV station earlier this year.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for the media to work in. The five reporters killed this year have either been targeted or caught in the crossfire of fighting between different groups.
"We can no longer operate independently and impartially, and our lives are in danger because of the chaotic situation in our country," said a statement signed by the 14 journalists, mainly editors and producers at local radio and TV stations.