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Militants in Somalia reject aid groups

Massive famine threatens lives of 800,000 kids

A Somali mother waited for aid at a refugee camp yesterday in Mogadishu, where an ongoing civil war rages. The country’s prolonged drought has devolved into famine. A Somali mother waited for aid at a refugee camp yesterday in Mogadishu, where an ongoing civil war rages. The country’s prolonged drought has devolved into famine. (Mustafa Abdi/AFP/Getty Images)
By Abdi Guled
Associated Press / July 23, 2011

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MOGADISHU, Somalia - Al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia vowed to keep most international aid workers out of the country despite a worsening famine, and the UN warned yesterday that 800,000 children could die in the region from starvation.

Frustrated aid groups said they want to deploy more food assistance in Somalia but do not have the necessary safety guarantees to do so. The anarchic country has been mired in conflict for two decades and its capital is a war zone.

The renewed threat from Al Shabab means that only a handful of agencies will be able to respond to the hunger crisis in militant-controlled areas of southern Somalia. And the largest provider of food aid - the UN World Food Program - is not among those allowed inside.

The UN fears tens of thousands of people have died in the famine, which has forced Somalis to walk for days to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The World Food Program said yesterday that it will provide food for 175,000 people in the Gedo region of southwest Somalia and to 40,000 people in the Afgoye corridor northwest of Mogadishu.

Internally displaced Somalis have been heading to the capital. The number of Somalis who arrived in Mogadishu this month - 21,100 - is more than four times the number that arrived in June and more than 10 times the number that arrived in May, according to the UN.

UNICEF, one of the few groups that does operate in Al Shabab-controlled areas, said it will deliver “unprecedented supplies’’ across the region.

“If we are to save lives, we need to act now, to bring in massive quantities of medicines, vaccines, nutrition supplies into the region as quickly as we are able and then get them out to the children who need it most,’’ said Shanelle Hall, director of UNICEF’s supply division.

Somalia is the most dangerous country in the world to work in, according to the UN’s World Food Program, which has lost 14 relief workers in the past few years. WFP pulled out of Islamist-controlled southern Somalia after rebels demanded cash payments and other concessions.

Al Shabab began to ban aid agencies in 2009, fearing the groups could host spies or promote a way of life contrary to Islamic beliefs.

Earlier this month, Al Shabab appeared to indicate it would soften its stance amid the hunger crisis.

But yesterday, spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said aid agencies the group had previously banned are still barred from operating in areas under its control.

He said the UN’s declaration of famine in parts of Somalia this week is politically motivated and “pure propaganda.’’

The World Food Program is trying to resolve the impasse.

“We are appealing to all parties for immediate access to save lives. We want to go in there. We’re ready to move,’’ said spokesman David Orr.

The United Nations estimates that more 11 million people in East Africa are affected by the drought, with 3.7 million in Somalia among the worst-hit because of the ongoing civil war in the country.

Somalia’s prolonged drought devolved into famine in part because neither the Somali government nor many aid agencies can fully operate in areas controlled by Al Shabab.

On Wednesday, the UN declared a famine in the Bakool and Lower Shabele regions of southern Somalia.

WHO’s representative for Somalia warned yesterday that the conditions for declaring a famine are expected to be reached soon in two further parts of southern Somalia - Juba and Bay.

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