Authorities extended a crackdown on Somalia's independent news media Tuesday by shuttering two private radio stations as a U.N. official called the war-battered nation's humanitarian crisis the worst in Africa.
The United Nations said 173,000 Mogadishu residents have now fled recent fighting between government-allied and Islamic forces — the most violent since April to hit the city. A top U.N. official for Somalia said the country's plight crisis had ballooned into the continent's worst, including Sudan's Darfur.
"The humanitarian situation in Somalia is worse than any other country," Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya. "It is the worst ... compared to all other African countries, including Sudan."
Mogadishu has been wracked by violence since December, when Ethiopian troops supporting the shaky transitional government pushed an Islamic alliance out of the city and the southern parts of the country where they had seized power. The Islamists vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency, and thousands of Somalis have been killed this year.
Fighting flared again in recent weeks as government and allied troops launched an operation targeting the insurgents. Gunfire and explosions are now a daily fixture in Mogadishu, where many markets and businesses are closed. The report of heavy-caliber machine guns could be heard Tuesday in south Mogadishu.
The government shuttered two more private radio stations Tuesday after closing one on Monday. Government officials weren't immediately available to explain the latest in a series of closures, but officials have in the past accused the independent news media of airing inflammatory items.
The acting director of Shabelle Media Network said he and another executive were briefly detained Monday when dozens of soldiers shut down their broadcasts.
A government official "told us that the radio is closed until an unspecified time," said Shabelle's acting director, Jafar Kukay. "We have seen this many times and always expected this to happen because there are many who are not happy with independent radio." Only two news stations based in the capital remain on air.
Somalia's conflict has been a deadly one for the country's journalists, who count at least eight colleagues dead in violence this year alone.
Aid groups have also borne harassment from all sides, hindering efforts to help an estimated 850,000 Somalis forced from their homes by fighting, including 450,000 who have fled Mogadishu this year alone.
Ould-Abdallah called said interference with independent groups should end.
"There is no political interest in harassing the media or NGOs" — non-governmental organizations such as aid groups, he said, urging the government to release "any person arrested unfairly."
The arid Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government since a group of warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned their heavily armed supporters on each other. The country is flooded with weapons and divided between warring clans.