Friday, July 22, 2011

Al-Shabab now denies lifting aid ban for Somalia

A spokesperson for the al-Shabab militant group says they are still banning any aid groups from entering famine stricken Somalia. The spokesperson was interviewed on a local radio station and denied that they have lifted the ban. Al-Shabab is even going as far as to say that there was no famine in the region.

From the Guardian, writer Xan Rice tells us about the denial.

The rebel group al-Shabab, which controls much of southern Somalia, had said earlier this month that it would allow all humanitarian groups access to assist with the drought response. But al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage has told a local radio station that the ban on specific aid agencies, which was imposed in 2009 and 2010, still stands. At the time, the rebels accused various humanitarian groups, including the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), which is expected to lead the current drought response, of damaging the local economy, being anti-Muslim, and of spying for the government.

"Those earlier banned groups are not welcome to serve in our area of control," Rage said on Friday.

Successive poor rainy seasons have caused a hunger crisis across the Horn of Africa, where 11 million people urgently need food aid. The situation is most acute in Somalia due to the ongoing conflict between pro-government forces and the al-Shabab rebels, as well as the Islamists' mistrust of outside help. The UN this week declared famine in two regions, Lower Shabelle and Bakool, which are both largely under the insurgents' control.

In a media briefing on Thursday evening in Mogadishu, Rage accused the UN of ulterior motives, and said that there was no famine.

"We say [the UN declaration] is totally, 100% wrong and baseless propaganda. Yes there is drought, but the conditions are not as bad as they say. They have another objective and it wouldn't surprise us if they were politicising the situation."

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