Somali rebels say UN food agency still banned

Fri Jul 22, 2011 3:16pm GMT

By Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Islamist rebels in Somalia -- who control the parts of the country where famine was declared this week -- have said aid agencies they expelled from those areas last year cannot return, reversing a previous pledge.

The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants imposed a ban on food aid in 2010, which the U.N. and Washington say has worsened the crisis, before appearing to reverse it last week.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) was among several groups ordered out of rebel areas which are now preparing to return, describing the situation in Somalia as "extremely dire".

The United Nations told Reuters it had not heard about any new position from the rebels and planned to take last week's pledge at face value and push ahead with food shipments by air and sea.

Al Shabaab had promised to allow relief agencies with "no hidden agendas" greater access to their territory.

"The so-called aid agencies that were already banned and named are not part of the agencies we free to work in al Shabaab areas," al Shabab spokesman, Ali Mohamud Raghe, told a news conference late on Thursday in a rebel-held part of capital Mogadishu.

"They had problems with people and had a hidden agenda. We shall also expel any agency that causes problems for Muslim society," he added, urging hungry Somalis to stay in their homes and wait for the rain to come rather than going to foreign-run refugee camps.

Some 10 million people are affected by famine and drought in a region, dubbed the "triangle of death" by local media, that straddles Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.   Continued...

A woman carries her baby in a camp established by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for the internally displaced people in Mogadishu July 20, 2011.  REUTERS/African Union-United Nations Information Support Team/Stuart Price/Handout
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