UNITED NATIONS, US: The UN’s special envoy for Somalia on Thursday issued a stark warning to the Security Council about a sharp uptick in civilian casualties suffered last year in the violence-wracked Horn of Africa country.
Catriona Laing, a British diplomat who took up the UN post earlier this year, said both the insurgency by jihadist Al-Shabab militants and clashes in the breakaway Somaliland region were to blame.
“Conflicts in Somalia continue to take a heavy toll on civilians. Last year, we saw the largest increase in civilian casualties since 2017,” Laing told the council.
“Sadly, early data indicate a similar trend in 2023, with 1,289 civilian casualties recorded so far.”
Al-Shabab has been waging a violent insurgency against the government of Somalia for more than 15 years.
Flushed out of major cities in 2011-2012, the organization is still present over vast rural areas, mainly in the center and south of the country. It stages attacks regularly against security forces, politicians and civilians.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May last year vowing all-out war against the militants, who have also carried out deadly attacks in neighboring countries including Kenya.
Somaliland has meanwhile seen months of conflict between its troops and a clan militia challenging the authorities of the self-proclaimed republic, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has not been internationally recognized.
The African Union maintains a force in Somalia, and the United Nations has a mission there.
UN resolutions call for the AU force (ATMIS) to be reduced to zero by the end of next year, handing over security to the Somali army and police.
Before the Security Council, Laing called on all partners “to consider providing support to fill the funding gap for ATMIS to ensure the mission can deliver its mandate fully, and troops do not go unpaid.”
The US envoy attending the meeting, Robert Wood, said Washington “remains committed to supporting the efforts of Somalia and the AU to build up Somalia’s security