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Somali Government Hampers Aid To Victims Of Deteriorating Situation, U.N. Says
GENEVA, Oct 26, 2007 – Somali government harassment is hampering aid workers trying to relieve some of the worst conditions in a decade because of poor harvests, fighting and attacks on government officials by Islamic insurgents, a U.N. official said Friday.
"We cannot accept that," said Eric Laroche, the global body's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.
About 1.5 million Somalis need food aid and protection “50 percent more that at the start of the year” because of inadequate rains, continuing internal displacement and a potential cholera epidemic.
"Never in the past 10 years have we seen such a bad situation."
The capital, Mogadishu, is particularly difficult and dangerous, U.N. officials say. Food deliveries to some 76,000 people there remain suspended because the government has yet to agree on a new system, Laroche told reporters in Geneva.
The World Food Program halted the distribution after security agents stormed a U.N. compound on Oct. 17 and arrested the head of World Food Program operations in Somalia, Idris Osman, on unspecified charges.
Osman was released Tuesday after almost a week in detention, and U.N. officials said they hoped to resume food deliveries immediately, but Laroche said the U.N. was still negotiating with the government on how to do it.
"The fact that it has been distributed in the mosques has been the major problem," he said. Government representatives initially allowed the U.N. to hand out food at mosques, but other government officials later opposed it, but the reasons are unclear, he said.
Elsewhere, Somali authorities have been turning away aid workers from a displacement camp, stopping trucks with food aid at road blocks and accusing the U.N. of feeding terrorists, Laroche said.
He said most of the people in the camps are children and women. In one, he saw an 8-year-old girl whose arm had been blown off by a rocket and who had lost her parents and her sister in the same attack.
"She's a terrorist, according to the government," Laroche said, explaining that the government accuses many displaced people of being terrorists even if it is only because they belong to a different clan or sub-clan.
Mogadishu has been plagued by fighting since government troops and their Ethiopian allies chased out the Council of Islamic Courts in December. Remnants of the Islamic group have vowed to fight an Iraq-style insurgency.
Lately, relief operations have become more difficult because insurgents have been attacking local authorities and police officers with targeted assassinations, roadside bombs and suicide attacks, increasing a general sense of insecurity, Laroche said.
"Suicide bombs and roadside bombs are absolutely new in Somalia," he said.
On Thursday, four men were killed and seven others injured in an explosion at a market in Belet Weyne, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of Mogadishu.
Insecurity on the roads means that drivers of many trucks carrying U.N. food aid have private militias escorting them. But getting through to the people is still difficult because there are more than 230 roadblocks in southern and central Somalia alone, Laroche said.
"Most of the time they just ask you for US$30, but sometimes, it's up to US$400," he said. "Sometimes you're just arrested, sometimes you're molested ... so it's quite difficult ... and it delays the delivery of assistance."
The United Nations has recently increased its presence in Somalia to around 800 staff including some 180 international staff, he said.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre and then turned on each other.
"It's a very difficult environment to work in," he said. "But it doesn't mean that you cannot work."