UN warns Somalia killings threaten food aid

Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:19pm GMT

By Wangui Kanina

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United Nations will be forced to end food distribution in Somalia unless armed groups stop attacking U.N. staff, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday.

Humanitarian workers have been targeted during a two-year-old rebellion by Islamist insurgents that has killed more than 16,000 civilians and uprooted one million others.

Four WFP staff have been killed since August last year.

Peter Goossens, WFP country director for Somalia, said in neighbouring Kenya the U.N. agency was distributing about 57,000 metric tonnes of food to southern and central regions that should feed some 2.5 million people until around mid-February.

"That is it basically," Goossens told a news conference.

"Unless we get positive assurances from the population, authorities and whoever is in control of such areas that our staff can safely function, we will have no choice but to stop distributing food in those specific areas."

Underlining the risks to aid workers, an unknown group dropped leaflets in the central town of Badme, warning humanitarian workers to leave the area.

Various Islamist rebel factions control most of south and central Somalia, while feuding militias hold sway elsewhere and 3,500 African Union (AU) peacekeepers are based in Mogadishu.   Continued...

<p>Islamist insurgents pose for the media in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, January 16, 2009. REUTERS/Mowlid Abdi</p>
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