Thousands of refugees flee fighting in Somalia(Read article summary)
The UN says more than 100,000 have now been displaced. Two Islamist militias may have joined forces for a new offensive.
Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP
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As violence in Somalia creates a staggering wave of refugees, the United Nations has warned that factions on both sides of the fight – Islamist rebels and pro-government militias – are committing atrocities against innocent civilians.
Cycles of violence have shaped Somalia's history for the past two decades. A particularly devastating one has flared in the past month. On May 7, an Al Qaeda-linked group called Al Shabab, which is fighting for an Islamic state, began a major offensive to oust the moderate government from power.
That government's allies include about 4,000 African Union peacekeepers, who have proven ineffective in stemming the violence. Fighting has torn apart the countryside, and increasingly focused on the capital, Mogadishu, one of the last bastions of government power.
The United Nations now says that more than 100,000 people have been displaced, hundreds killed, and atrocities committed on both sides, including shelling civilian homes. An increasing swirl of illegal weapons, meanwhile, looks set to fuel the violence for a long time to come.
This last wave of violence does not appear likely to abate any time soon. In a move that could have troubling repercussions, two Islamist factions appear to be uniting under one front to attack the country's Western-backed government, according to a report by the Associated Press published by Somaliland Press, an independent news site based in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
As Islamist forces unite, they are also preparing for a "big push" into the country's center, Somaliland Press adds:
In another troubling development, Reuters reports that illegal weapons are pouring into Somalia from around the world, despite a UN arms embargo in Somalia.