Somali rebels lift ban on food aid

1105

Islamist rebels have lifted a ban on humanitarian agencies supplying food aid to millions of Somalis after the worst drought in 60 years hit the Horn of Africa region, a spokesman for the insurgents said.

Somalia is experiencing pre-famine conditions, driving more than 1,000 people over the border into Kenya and Ethiopia each day, according to the United Nations.
“We have now decided to welcome all Muslim and non-Muslim aid agencies to assist the drought-stricken Somalis in our areas,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, Al Shabaab spokesman, told a news conference in Mogadishu late on Tuesday.
“All aid agencies whose objective is only humanitarian relief are free to operate in our area,” Rage said, adding they should first contact Al Shabaab’s drought committee.

Al Shabaab fighters, who profess loyalty to al Qaeda, control central and southern parts of the country. In the past, they said food aid created dependency.

The United Nations says 2.8 million people in Somalia need emergency aid. In the worst-hit areas, one in three children is suffering from malnutrition.

Local analysts in Somalia said Al Shabaab lifted the ban to generate money to fund their war effort. Al Shabaab previously told aid agencies to pay a hefty registration fee.

That has pushed increasing numbers of people to flee into government-controlled territory seeking assistance.

On Tuesday, Al Shabaab soldiers blocked two trucks carrying people from southern Somalia to the capital, Mogadishu, in the hope of finding food and water.
“Al Shabaab fighters said they would not allow people to flee to Mogadishu, which is ruled by infidels,” shopkeeper Ali Hussein told Reuters by phone on Wednesday from Afgoye, 40 km (25 miles) outside the Somali capital.
“Al Shabaab said it would open kitchens for them.”

About half of Mogadishu is controlled by the Western-backed transitional federal government.

The senior U.N. humanitarian official for Somalia welcomed the news of the lifting of the food aid ban.
“I am happy to cooperate with anybody who can work to alleviate the current crisis to save hundreds of Somali lives,” said Mark Bowden, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, who is based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The U.N World Food Programme would not comment. It pulled out of southern Somalia in 2010 because of threats against its staff and demands by Al Shabaab of payments for security.

The world’s biggest food agency has also faced challenges from donors after a local WFP contractor was exposed last March as a Somali businessman with links to Al Shabaab.
“We don’t have anything to eat,” said Sainab Yusuf Mohamed, whose child died as they were trekking across the desert in search of help. “As we were burying his body, my second child died,” she said by telephone from Bardhere District in southwest Somalia.