NAIROBI, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- The UN refugee agency said on Friday that more than 10,000 people have fled Kismayo in southern Somalia since the start of September fearing the ongoing military operation by the UN-backed African Union forces.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Somalia Representative Bruno Geddo said in a statement issued in Nairobi that some 7,500 Somalis fled the city which in the last four days amid tension.
"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," UNHCT said in the statement.
"Some 7,500 people fled the area in the past four days due to growing tensions and belligerent statements," the statement said.
The AU forces have been battling Al-Shabaab militants that are blamed for bomb and grenade attacks in Kenya, having being pushed out of capital Mogadishu.
The insurgents still control some parts of Somalia especially in the south-central regions including Kismayo, their only remaining bastion.
The UN and international humanitarian agencies have been calling on AMISOM forces to minimize the impact of their ongoing military operation to allow the agencies to help Somalis deal with the impact of drought, as well as the after-effects of famine in some areas.
The statement came after the AU envoy to Somalia on Thursday called on the UN-backed AU forces in the Horn of Africa nation to minimize the potential of civilians being injured during the ongoing military operation to capture Kismayo.
The Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission for Somalia, Ambassador Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, reiterated AMISOM's commitment to minimizing the impact of its operations on the civilian population and urged all forces active in the country to follow its example.
"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," Diarra said in Nairobi.
Diarra said it was only with the support of the Somali people that AMISOM had been able to achieve success in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere.
In its statement, UNHCR said it is closely monitoring the situation around the Somali port city of Kismayo as thousands of city's residents flee in anticipation of military activities and new clashes.
"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," said Geddo.
Geddo said most of the internally displaced Somalis are leaving Kismayo and its surroundings on minibuses, adding poorer households undertake the journey in lorries and trucks, in some cases using donkey carts.
The agency said the majority of those displaced are heading to villages in other parts of Kismayo district as well as villages in the neighboring Jilib and Jamame districts. Some are also moving towards Mogadishu and Dadaab refugee camps.
"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 said.
Kenyan soldiers have captured a string of towns leading to Kismayo, the third largest city which is considered the hub of the militant group, Al-Shabaab, which formally merged with the dreaded global terror network, the al Qaida, after several years of pledging loyalty and ideological similarities.
According to UNHCR, the displaced also fear being caught in the crossfire and possible reprisal attacks by armed groups operating in the town.
After two decades of conflict and violence, Somalia remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, generating a large number of refugees, only after Afghanistan and Iraq.
At present, more than 1 million Somalis live as refugees in the neighboring countries. Another 1.3 million are internally displaced across Somalia.