- The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed concern over reports of imminent war in Somalia, as increased insecurity could worsen the humanitarian crisis in the war-scarred country.
"The consequences of any widespread conflict would be disastrous, including massive internal movement, civilian casualties, and further livelihood and asset erosion," Philippe Lazzarini, head of OCHA in Somalia told the UN media 'IRIN' on Wednesday.
Ali Muhammad Gedi, the Prime Minister of Somalia's internationally recognised Transitional Federal Government (TFG), was reported to have said war with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which controls the capital, Mogadishu, and much of central and southern Somalia, was imminent and inevitable.
In an interview on Monday with the 'Associated Press', Mr Gedi was quoted as saying: "Those who believe that the situation in Somalia will be solved through dialogue and talks are wrong." The transitional government refused to be drawn any further on the subject.
The Islamist movement has said that Mr Gedi's remarks were an indication that the transitional government had decided "to go the war way".
"These are the words of a man who has decided to wage war rather than negotiate," Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali, the Islamist movement's vice-chairman, said.
Mr Ali said the Islamists were prepared to continue peaceful dialogue with the transitional government "but if attacked, we are ready and willing to defend our country and our people from a war orchestrated and led by Ethiopia."
The Islamists claimed Ethiopian troops were in the country to support the fledgling transitional government. However, Ethiopian officials have denied sending a fighting force to Somalia, but have acknowledged that their "military advisers" were helping the transitional government, which is based in the southern town of Baidoa.
Mr Lazzarini said conflict in Somalia would undoubtedly have regional consequences, including the movement of thousands of people into neighbouring countries.
Already, an estimated 444,000 people are affected by flooding, with the "worst-case scenario" putting as many as 900,000 Somalis in danger of displacement if the flooding continues in December, according to OCHA-Somalia.
According to OCHA, "a mixture of conflict and escalating tensions, coupled with the impact of the drought in the first half of this year, has resulted in over 300,000 people moving internally, seeking protection". This is in addition to the 400,000 long-term IDPs who have been living in camps for at least 10 years.
"There is no doubt that these figures will significantly increase with a widespread conflict," Mr Lazzarini said.
"The current war of words is creating a very worrying situation," said Muhammad Nur Ga'al, deputy head of Civil Society in Action, a coalition of civil-society groups. "War is not inevitable and should not be; both sides need to pull back from the brink and go back to the negotiating table."
The two sides have met in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, but failed to reach any lasting agreement.
Mr Ga'al said: "Somali people have suffered from drought and now floods. I hope that those who aspire to be their leaders will not add war to that list of calamities."
Somalia's transitional government was installed in Nairobi in late 2004 in an effort to bring peace and security to the Horn of Africa country, which has not had an effective government for 16 years.
In June this year, the Islamic Courts' militias defeated warlords who had controlled the city since 1991, following the collapse of the regime headed by Somalia's last real president, Muhammad Siyad Barre.
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