Somalia rebels main block to aid: UN report
By Barry Malone
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Rebels in Somalia -- where famine has been declared and 3.7 million people are going hungry -- burned food and medicine, and killed charity workers, as part of a long-running campaign of extortion against aid groups, according to a UN report.
The evidence in the UN Monitoring group report on Somalia and Eritrea exposes a policy of intimidation against aid groups going back as far as 2008.
Both the U.N. and the United States have blamed the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group for worsening the food crisis in the country, where famine has been declared in two regions largely controlled by the militants.
"The single greatest obstacle to humanitarian assistance in Somalia during the course of the mandate has consistently been the denial of access by armed opposition groups, principally by elements of Al-Shabaab," the report, obtained by Reuters on Thursday, said.
The report said some U.N. agencies working in Somalia suspected local organisations they funded and funnelled supplies through were paying money to al Shabaab, which the group called "taxes".
The report details incidents of al Shabaab officers demanding bribes from U.N. and aid agency officials to allow them to work in rebel areas and, in some cases, burning food stocks and medicine when cash was not paid out.
Al Shabaab surprised aid groups in the region this month when they pledged to reverse a ban on food aid that they imposed in 2010, but they later said embargoes against the U.N. food agency, WFP, and some major aid agencies would remain.
Political analysts in the region say that the famine declaration has put the rebels in a difficult position. Continued...