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After a Week of Intense Fighting in Somalia, MSF Extremely Concerned About the Security of Medical Staff and Safety of Patients

Nairobi/Geneva, December 28, 2006—MSF is gravely concerned for the safety of our staff and patients following a serious incident occurring in an MSF medical facility in Dinsor (Bay region, Somalia) on December 27. After taking control of Dinsor, representatives of military forces entered the MSF medical facility, pressured the Somali medical staff employed by MSF, and confiscated all inpatient confidential medical files.

For the past week, the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontires (MSF) has treated approximately 250 people wounded in the ongoing fighting in Somalia. Following a serious incident in an MSF medical facility in Dinsor, Somalia, on Wednesday the 27th, MSF is urging all warring parties torespect international law and guarantee the safety of health structures, including patients and staff.

Nairobi/Geneva—MSF is gravely concerned for the safety of our staff and patients following a serious incident occurring in an MSF medical facility in Dinsor (Bay region, Somalia) on December 27. After taking control of Dinsor, representatives of military forces entered the MSF medical facility, pressured the Somali medical staff employed by MSF, and confiscated all inpatient confidential medical files. These files, confidential by nature, do not include any information concerning the patient's nationality, in accordance with MSF medical practice.

MSF headquarters has officially complained to the Ethiopian government and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia about this clear violation of international humanitarian law, and has requested the immediate return of the patient medical files. Furthermore, MSF urges all warring parties to respect international law and guarantee the safety of health structures, including patients and staff, in a context where access to vulnerable populations in need is gravely reduced.

On December 21, MSF sent emergency medical and surgical materials to Dinsor, and on December 22, 13 tons of similar supplies arrived in Belet Weyne, where MSF recently established surgical activities. As direct military confrontations spread through large parts of southern and central Somalia last week, MSF medical teams treated approximately 250 wounded in the various medical structures supported by the organization. Additional surgical supplies for treating 300 wounded are currently being shipped.

Due to fighting and the deteriorating security situation, MSF was forced to temporarily evacuate all its remaining international aid workers from the projects in Belet Weyne, Huddur, Galgaduud, Jowhar, and Marere this past weekend, leaving the Somali national staff to address all medical needs. A similar evacuation took place a few weeks earlier in Dinsor, Bay Region and in Galcaayo, Mudug region.

Following the fighting near Dinsor, 160 wounded patients, both military and civilian, were admitted to the MSF medical facility by MSF staff for emergency medical care. 70 patients were treated in Istarlin Hospital in Galgaduud region, and several are still receiving medical attention there today. In Galcaayo also, a total of 19 patients were treated by MSF.

"We are deeply concerned by our ability to adequately assist victims of the current fighting in Somalia, which is compounding the already dramatic humanitarian situation in southern and central Somalia. The situation can only get worse with the continuing conflict as well as natural disasters like the recent floods. We want to send our expatriate teams back to the field as soon as conditions will allow," says Dr. Gustavo Fernandez, head of mission of MSF in Somalia.

MSF is one of the very few nongovernmental organizations with a permanent expatriate presence on the ground in Somalia since 1991. Following humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality, MSF has projects in areas controlled and/or previously under control of both parties to the conflict in Galcaayo, Jowhar, Mogadishu, Huddur, Galgaduud, Dinsor, and Marere.