Al Shabaab rebels banned some U.N. and international aid agencies yesterday from working in areas of Somalia they control and stormed some of the groups’ offices, the Islamist group and aid sources said.
Rebels looted supplies from agency offices in southern and central areas at a time when a quarter of a million Somalis face starvation and Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian forces are fighting the al-Qaeda-inspired group.
Al Shabaab, which controls large areas of the anarchic country, said it had “decided to permanently revoke the permissions of the following organisations to operate inside Somalia”.
These included 16 agencies like the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Norwegian and Danish Refugee Councils. However, the International Committee for the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres escaped the ban.
The rebels, which are hostile to Western intervention, banned food aid last year in the areas they controlled and kicked many groups out, saying aid created dependency. They lifted the ban in July when the food crisis hit critical levels, only to reimpose it later.
Some organisations were found to be “persistently galvanising the local population against the full establishment of the Islamic Sharia system”, the group said in a statement.
Al Shabaab, which wants to impose its harsh interpretation of sharia, the Islamic moral and legal code, also accused the banned groups of financing and aiding “subversive groups seeking to destroy the basic tenets of Islamic penal system”.
Pieter Desloovere, WHO Somalia’s communications officer, confirmed the agency’s offices in the Somali towns of Baidoa and Wajid had been attacked on Monday.
UNICEF’s Jaya Murthy told Reuters the agency’s offices had been occupied by al Shabaab in Baidoa on Monday.
“All of our staff that were in the office at the same time were asked to leave. All of our staff are safe. Our Baidoa office is currently still being occupied. No other UNICEF office is currently being occupied and all staff in Somalia are safe,” Murthy told Reuters in Geneva.
Aid sources said al Shabaab rebels had occupied UNICEF, WHO and non-governmental organisation offices in Baidoa and six other the rebel-controlled towns, highlighting the militants’ concerted campaign against the aid agencies.
A number of the aid agencies are funded by western nations which at the same time are supporting Kenya’s incursion into Somalia against al Shabaab.
Some aid relief efforts have been suspended after Kenya sent troops into the region more than six weeks ago to crush the militants. Military action has also prevented displaced people returning home to plant crops during the rainy season.
A Baidoa resident described how the militants had seized the UNICEF and WHO offices there.
“Al Shabaab have just started to loot UNICEF and WHO compounds in the town – they stormed and seized the compounds two hours ago. Now I can see them carrying the agencies’ equipment out,” Ali Abdullahi told Reuters.
Another resident in Wajid said he saw al Shabaab fighters forcing security guards out of UNICEF’s compound. “Immediately, they started looting vaccinations and even the freezers in which they are stored in,” Fadumo Ibrahim told Reuters.