Local militia forces ICRC food aid suspension in Somalia
NAIROBI - The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had suspended food aid to 1.1 million people in war-torn southern and central Somalia due to obstruction by local militia.
"The suspension will continue until we receive assurances from the authorities controlling those areas that distributions can take place unimpeded and reach all those in need, as previously agreed," said Patrick Vial, the head of the ICRC delegation for Somalia.
The ICRC is one of the largest providers of emergency aid in Somalia, and one of the very few operating in areas controlled by the hardline Islamist Shebab insurgents, who have imposed draconian restrictions on aid agencies.
However, since mid-December "local authorities in central and southern Somalia have blocked the delivery of food intended for 240,000 people in the Middle Shabelle and Galgadud regions," ICRC said.
The ICRC did not specifically name who was blocking their deliveries of food for "1.1 million people in urgent need" but Middle Shabelle -- declared a famine zone by the United Nations -- is controlled by the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab.
Galgadud, the other area where deliveries are blocked, is divided between rival forces, including the Shebab and the pro-government Alhlu Sunna Wal Jama militia.
The United Nations says Somalia is the world's worst humanitarian crisis declaring three areas to be in famine and warning that nearly 250,000 people face starvation.
"We are actively seeking the cooperation of the local authorities to restore conditions that will allow the resumption of the suspended activities as soon as possible," said Vial.
Somalia, ravaged by nearly uninterrupted civil war for the past two decades, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers and one of the regions that needs them most.
The aid included food as well as seeds for farmers, and was intended to be given to the thousands struggling from years of war and the impact of a devastating drought that has ravaged Somalia since October 2010.
In November, the Shebab ordered shut 16 UN and other international aid agencies after raiding several of their offices, banning organisations it deemed "engaged in activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic State."
The Shebab's raids left just a handful of aid agencies able to operate in rebel-held areas, including the ICRC and Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Despite suspending food aid, ICRC continues to provide emergency aid including supporting health programmes and providing clean water.
Shebab fighters control much of central and southern Somalia but are facing growing encirclement from government forces and regional armies, including Kenyan troops in the far south and Ethiopian forces in the west.
Shebab gunmen pulled out of fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu last August, but have switched to guerrilla-style attacks including suicide bombers against the Western-backed government and African Union forces there.