UN condemns Al-Shabab's ban on ICRC

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NAIROBI, 31 January 2012 (IRIN) - The UN has expressed concern over a ban by Somalia's Al-Shabab insurgents on aid distributions by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia saying the move would reverse gains made in the country's food security.

"Over the past couple of months, ICRC distributed food to over one million Somalis in crisis; leaving so many vulnerable Somalis without food will endanger their lives and could also result in pushing a large number of people back into famine, reversing any gains made," Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said. "We appeal to all factions in Somalia to allow humanitarian actors to reach people most in need, wherever they are."

The ICRC was one of the last aid agencies operating in areas under Al-Shabab’s control. In a statement, the group accused ICRC of "repeated distribution of expired food and false accusations".

Al-Shabab said its Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies (OSAFA) "has decided to terminate the contract of ICRC permanently".

A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said Al-Shabab was angered by the decision of ICRC to suspend its humanitarian activities on 12 January in Al-Shabab-controlled areas after its aid deliveries were blocked.

In November 2011, Al-Shabab banned 16 aid organizations, including several UN agencies, from operating in areas under its control, accusing them of "illicit activities and misconduct".

Somalia is still in the throes of a major food crisis, classified as famine in some regions. A civil society source in Mogadishu said the latest move "will be a setback for the recovery from the drought and famine. The timing is bad for those who are in need and those who were receiving seeds to plant."

An aid worker, who declined to be named, told IRIN a new approach was needed to deal with Al-Shabab.

The aid worker said Al-Shabab was under a great deal of pressure from Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. Both countries’ forces have entered Somalia and captured Al-Shabab-controlled areas.

"They [Al-Shabab] are seeing everything as an attempt to destroy or harm them."

The aid worker said force alone would not work.

"Maybe it is time to open channels of communication, preferably by the international community. Surely, if they [international community] can talk to the Taliban, they can talk to Al-Shabab to save lives."