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Somali food aid

January 6, 2010

The United Nation's agency for food says attacks by Al Qaeda-linked rebels have forced it to stop the distribution of aid in southern Somalia.

An aid worker carries a sack of grain
No more sacks of food for southern SomaliaImage: WFP/Marcus Prior

"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," the agency said in a statement.

It further said the agency was "deeply concerned about rising hunger and suffering among the most vulnerable due to these unprecedented and inhumane attacks on purely humanitarian operations."

A man walks past the ruins of a building in Mogadishu
The war-torn face of the capital, MogadishuImage: AP

The agency was referring to a series of attacks in which the al Shabab radical Islamist group looted a number of UN compounds in southern Somalia.

Despite being forced out of the south, the WFP, which has played a major role in international efforts to contain a humanitarian crisis in the war and drought-ravaged country, says it will continue activities in northern and central regions.

The militants, who have pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, have the south tightly under their control. They want to rid the region of foreign aid workers altogether and have imposed strict operating conditions in a bid to do so.

Rule-book for aid workers

Towards the end of last year, al Shabab drew up a list of rules for international humanitarian groups to comply with. These included a twice annual registration fee of 13,000 euros ($20,000).

The rules, obtained by the AFP news agency, state that aid organizations "should distance [themselves] from anything that will affect proper Islamic culture… like prompting adultery and establishing women's groups."

A man walks past a row of armed vehicles
Somalia has long been a place where weapons ruleImage: AP

A senior al Shabab official, Sheikh Ibrahim Garweyn, told the Reuters news agency he was delighted to see the UN leave.

"It is our great pleasure to see the WFP and other spy agencies suspend their involvement in Somalia… We will never allow them to come here again," he said.

Somalia, which has not had a stable government since 1991, is currently ruled by a transitional administration but is facing a massive rebellion from Islamic militants.

Editor: Nancy Isenson