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UN forced to suspend Somalia food aid amid al Qaeda attacks

Video by Mark THOMPSON


Latest update : 2010-01-06

The UN food agency said Tuesday it's been forced to suspend food relief to a million hungry people in southern Somalia after months of attacks and extortion by al Qaeda-linked rebel groups.

AFP - The UN food agency said Tuesday it had been forced to suspend food aid to a million hungry people in southern Somalia after months of attacks and extortion by Al Qaeda-linked rebels.

"Rising threats and attacks on humanitarian operations, as well as the imposition of a string of unacceptable demands from armed groups, have made it virtually impossible for the World Food Programme (WFP) to continue reaching up to one million people in need in southern Somalia," it said in a statement.

"WFP's humanitarian operations in southern Somalia have been under escalating attacks from armed groups, leading to this virtual suspension of humanitarian food distribution in much of southern Somalia," it said.

Mired in almost uninterrupted civil conflict since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre and plagued by recurring natural disasters, Somalia is often described as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The radical Islamist insurgent group Shebab, whose leader last year proclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden, has overrun and looted several key UN compounds in southern Somalia in recent weeks.

The latest to be attacked was in the southern town of Buale forcing the WFP to close it temporarily together with the agency's offices in Wajid, Beledweyn and other major southern hubs.

"Staff safety is a key concern for WFP and recent attacks, threats, harassment and demands for payments by armed groups have decimated the humanitarian food lifeline," it explained.

In the areas they control, the Shebab have also imposed strict conditions on foreign humanitarian organisations, effectively stopping them from operating.

Somalia's Shebab fighters, increasingly under the spell of Al Qaeda ideology, have been gradually weeding out the few foreign aid groups still operating in the country's central and southern regions.

Late last year, the Shebab administration in the south-central regions of Bay and Bakool handed aid groups a list of 11 rules to comply with, including a registration fee of 20,000 dollars, payable twice a year.

Drawing fresh comparisons with Afghanistan under the Taliban in 1996-2001, the Shebab also imposed conditions complying with the strict brand of Islamic law they enforce in the regions under their control.

Aid organisations "should distance (themselves) from anything that will affect proper Islamic culture... like promoting adultery and establishing women's groups," said a document spelling out the rules obtained by AFP.

World Women's Day is singled out along with Christmas and World Aids Day as proscribed celebrations, while "preaching democracy" is also listed as a value "interfering with Islam" that should be banned.

"WFP is deeply concerned about rising hunger and suffering among the most vulnerable due to these unprecedented and inhumane attacks on purely humanitarian operations," the statement said.

But Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Muhamud Rage insisted that "there is no insecurity in the regions controlled by Shebab as they claimed."

He said the group had only told the UN agency it should "buy the food it distributes from Somali farmers instead of purchasing it from American farmers."

Some estimates say that close to half of Somalia's 10 million inhabitants are in need of humanitarian assistance, in many cases emergency food aid.

"Even in good years, Somalia is only able to meet 40 per cent of the food needs of its population through internal production. In the last five years, local production has averaged only about 30 per cent of food needs," WFP said.

"WFP is continuing to provide life saving food distributions in the rest of the country, including the capital, Mogadishu, reaching more than two-thirds of the hungry it has been targeting -- or 1.8 million people," it said.

"Our people never rely on foreign aid as they claim, Allah assists them, they have their farms," Shebab's Rage said. 

Backed by the international community but still under-equipped and ill-trained, the security forces of Somalia's federal transitional government have so far failed to quash a bruising Shebab-led nationwide insurgency.


Date created : 2010-01-06


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