Middle East

Somali rebels ban food aid group

In this photo released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team, alleged members of al-Shabab are blindfolded and guarded at a former police station by soldiers of the Somali National Army (SNA) in Kismayo, southern Somalia, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/AU-UN IST, Stuart Price)

NAIROBI, Kenya: Militant Islamist rebels in Somalia on Monday announced a ban against another aid group working in a region of Somalia hit hard by hunger.

Al-Shabab said on Twitter that it had banned the British-registered aid group Islamic Relief. The extremists accused the group of working with the United Nations' World Food Program, which the militants will not allow in its territory.

The regional director for Islamic Relief, Iftikhar Shaheen, said the group had not been officially notified of any decision to kick it out of the region but that it is concerned about the announcement. Shaheen said that none of his group's activities is funded by the World Food Program.

"If this decision is confirmed it could put many lives at risk, jeopardizing our work providing food, water, sanitation, health care and support for income generation to 1.3 million people in Somalia. We need to explain our principles, policies and programmes fully with a view to keeping this life-saving work alive," Shaheen said.

Shaheen noted that Islamic Relief operates under the umbrella of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and said his group's agenda "is purely humanitarian."

Al-Shabab has been forced out of Mogadishu, the capital, and more recently out of the port city of Kismayo, but the group still controls rural areas of south-central Somalia. It imposes a strict interpretation of Shariah law on Somalis who live there and allow only a few outside organizations to operate in its area.

The al-Shabab tweet said that Islamic Relief "has repeatedly failed, despite the persistent warnings, to comply with the operational guidelines set out by" what it called the Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies. Al-Shabab has previously kicked out several aid groups from its territory. Other aid groups operate there quietly but will not talk about their activities for fear of jeopardizing their access.

The aid group Oxfam, said Monday that water and food shortages in southern Somalia are at critical levels and likely to worsen in coming months. Somalia suffered a devastating famine last year. Oxfam said the country was unlikely to return to famine levels but that areas in southern Somalia have alarmingly high rates of malnutrition. A poor harvest and higher food prices is worsening the situation, it said.

Ed Pomfret, the group's Somalia campaign manager, said international donors need to continue to dedicate money to the region.

"There's always a huge number of crises out there but I'm worried that if the international community turns their focus away from Somalia a whole bunch of people will fall back into crisis," he said.

An Oxfam survey of more than 1,800 households in Somalia in July and August found that three-quarters of respondents said they were concerned they will not have enough to eat over the next four months. Some 42 percent of people questioned were regularly skipping meals, it said.





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