UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia man weapons atop their Armored Personnel Carrier after capturing the former private Elmaan seaport from al-Shabaab millitants, 30km (19 miles) east of Mogadishu.(file photo)
Over 10,000 people have left Kismayo in southern Somalia days after UN-backed African Union forces launched a military operation against al-Shabab militants, UN refugee agency says.
"In September alone, more than 10,000 people have fled from Kismayo fearing the resumption of fighting. Movements substantially increased on Monday and have been continuing since…. Some 7,500 people fled the area in the past four days due to growing tensions and belligerent statements,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Somalia Representative Bruno Geddo in a statement on Friday.
"Our monitors on the ground report that some civilians fear being used as human shields, should fighting erupt in Kismayo, while others also fear possible retribution in the chaotic aftermath of battle… According to our partners, most of those fleeing Kismayo say that they are planning to return as soon as the situation stabilizes. There are reports of sporadic militia attacks and looting,” Geddo added.
The statement was issued after the African Union (AU) ambassador to Somalia Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra asked the African Union troops in the war-torn country to minimize the potential of civilians being wounded during military strikes in the port city of Kismayo.
"African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) takes its responsibility for the safety of the people of Somalia very seriously and fully understands its obligations to conduct operations without causing undue risk to the local population,” said Diarra on Thursday.
Earlier in the week, Al-Shabab militants vacated some of their military bases in port city of Kismayo after Kenyan troops currently under the command of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali government forces advanced into the district to seize the territory.
Kismayo is a strategically important port city on Somalia's Indian Ocean coast located some 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of capital, Mogadishu.
Kenya dispatched soldiers over its border into the conflict-plagued Somalia last October to pursue al-Shabab militants, which it accuses of being behind the kidnapping of several foreigners on its territory.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The weak Western-backed transitional government in Mogadishu has been battling al-Shabab fighters for the past five years, and is propped up by a strong African Union force from Uganda, Burundi, and Djibouti.
Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) officially joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on July 6 in a bid to secure peace and stability in the neighboring war- ravaged country.
Integrating 4664 Kenyan personnel into AMISOM, the move brought the AMISOM force strength to slightly over 17,000 troops.
Somalia is one of the countries generating the highest number of refugees and internally-displaced people in the world.