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Press release

UNICEF deplores increased targeting of children in Somalia

Nairobi, 20 June 2003 - The targeted killing of three girls in Baidoa on Wednesday and the hijacking of a busload of children in Mogadishu last week are abominable acts that require the strongest condemnation by all Somalis, UNICEF Somalia Representative, Jesper Morch, said today.

''These incidents dramatically highlight the need for Somalis to halt the escalation of conflict in Central and Southern Somalia which has seen growing levels of trauma and violence, increasingly targeting small children. It particularly challenges Somali leaders currently discussing the future of their country to ensure that all children are protected against violence,'' said Morch.

On Wednesday, 18 June 2003, three teenage schoolgirls were killed at a house in Baidoa, Central Somalia, in an incident allegedly carried out by members of a local militia group. According to community members and media in Somalia, two of the girls died at the scene while the third died in hospital on Tuesday night. Reports suggest that the attack was a targeted retaliation for another killing.

In a separate incident in Mogadishu during the past week, a girl about eight years old was kidnapped and taken hostage by gunmen during a failed attempt to kidnap her father. The girl remains in captivity. This is the third case of abduction and kidnapping of children in the city in less than one week. Two other children, including a seven year old boy, were also abducted and still remain in captivity.

A week earlier, on Wednesday June 11, a bus belonging to Hamar Kindergarten in Mogadishu that was carrying 37 young children was ambushed and commandeered by gunmen. After a harrowing ride, the gunmen abandoned the children in groups, away from their homes. Community members assisted the children in returning to their families.

These incidents are the latest in a worrying pattern that includes killings, kidnappings and attacks targeting children in Mogadishu and other vulnerable places in Central and Southern Somalia since late last year. Of note, was an attack in December 2002 on another school bus, resulting in the deaths of several children, and an attack on a public bus in January 2003 in which a 12 year old boy died. The June attacks came as celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child were underway in key cities throughout Somalia and underline the precarious situation of children.

The voice of UNICEF echoes the deep concern of thousands of Somali citizens who want an end to the cycle of violence in Mogadishu and other parts of the country. At a time when Somali leaders are discussing peace and national reconciliation in Kenya, these incidents are a reminder of their obligation to take concrete steps toward the restoration of peace, law and order.

For more information contact:

Julia Spry-Leverton, Communication Officer, UNICEF Somalia, Tel: +254-2-623958. Mob: +254-733-254-021 Email: jsleverton@unicef.org

Robert Kihara, Assistant Communication Officer, UNICEF Somalia. Tel: +254-2-623-958/623-950/623-862. Mob: + 254-721-244-800.





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