International

Relief Groups Kicked Out Of Somalia, Warn Of Humanitarian Catastrophe

Somali civilians line up for food during the famine this year. Militants are banning relief agencies who warn a quarter of a million Somalis are at risk of starvation. i i

Somali civilians line up for food during the famine this year. Militants are banning relief agencies who warn a quarter of a million Somalis are at risk of starvation. Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP
Somali civilians line up for food during the famine this year. Militants are banning relief agencies who warn a quarter of a million Somalis are at risk of starvation.

Somali civilians line up for food during the famine this year. Militants are banning relief agencies who warn a quarter of a million Somalis are at risk of starvation.

Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP

Aid groups in Somalia are warning of widespread disaster now that al-Shabab, the Islamist militant group, has ordered 16 relief organizations to get out of the country. To drive the point home, militants attacked and looted aid offices in southern and central Somalia today, as Reuters notes.

Some of the banned groups include UNICEF and the World Health Organization, along with German and Scandinavian groups. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called on the militants to rescind the ban; as AFP notes, he also denounced the militant attacks on the aid offices as brazen, because they're intended to stop Somali civilians from getting medical care.

Somalia has been through years of civil war since the early 1990's, and troops from several countries, including the U.S., have been involved in humanitarian efforts and fighting, as the BBC explains in a timeline. This year, the UN declared a famine in the Horn of Africa and al-Shabab allowed relief agencies to rush food, shelter, clean water and medicines to the areas its fighters control. But as AP reports, the UN estimates tens of thousands of people still died, and the nascent recovery is so fragile any progress could be lost.

In addition to facing outrage from relief agencies, al-Shabab is facing new threats from its neighbors. The group has claimed responsibility for terror attacks in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. In response, Kenya sent its troops into Somalia last month to stop the Somali militants. Now there are new reports saying Ethiopian troops have been seen in Somalia this weekend.

One reason al-Shabab could have decided to throw out the relief agencies: to try to stop Somali civilians from passing on intelligence about the militants' activity. All-Africa interviews a Kenyan colonel who says Kenyan troops gather information on al-Shabab from Somali civilians at the same time they're feeding them.

"While defending the action by the army to feed the locals, Col. Oguna dismissed claims by NGOs that the operation had interfered with humanitarian work worsening the crisis in the Horn of Africa country."

Oguna told All-Africa al-Shabab is using civilians as human shields.

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