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Somali insurgents seek help for drought victims
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu (AFP) July 6, 2011

Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked rebels, who banned foreign aid groups in regions under their control two years ago, have appealed for help for thousands of people devastated by a severe drought.

The Shebab on Tuesday called for help, saying they would allow aid through to the drought-affected regions as thousands flee the country to seek help from neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

Food shortages and violence forced 54,000 Somalis to flee the country in June alone, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"The movement has now formed a new committee to respond to the drought to help those affected," Shebab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters.

"The committee will outline working strategies and anybody wanting to assist those suffering is welcome," he added.

"Whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, (if) their intention is only to assist those suffering, they can contact the committee which will give them access to the drought-hit areas," Rage said.

However, Somali lawmaker Mohamed Adan Dhere said the Shebab should scrap the ban on foreign aid groups.

"The call is not yet clear and what is needed is that they officially announce the lifting of their ban on the humanitarian workers in the regions they control. Once they do so, I think aid agencies will respond," he told AFP.

"I think it will be good for the people devastated by the drought. People are dying and are in dire need of humanitarian assistance from anywhere," Dhere added.

Foreign relief groups halted operations in south and central Somalia regions under the Shebab, who from 2009 expelled them on accusations that they were against Islam.

The hardline group issued tough regulations, including a 20,000-dollar registration fee on relief organisations, in line with their brand of strict Islamic law.

Rising threats and attacks by Shebab fighters also forced the World Food Programme to suspend food distribution last year in large swathes of the war-wracked country, leaving around a million people without adequate food.

The Horn of Africa region has recently been hit by a serious drought that has left millions in need of food aid and sparked an exodus especially from Somalia into Kenya and Ethiopia.

Last week, Somalia's interim government also appealed for help for those affected by the drought.

So far this year, some 135,000 Somalis have crossed the borders in search of refuge as well as food and water, joining millions of others who have fled over the last few years, the UNHCR said Tuesday.

"The drought, compounded by prevailing violence in southern and central parts of the country, is turning one of the world's humanitarian crises into a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions," said Melissa Fleming, the agency's spokeswoman.

"We estimate that a quarter of Somalia's 7.5 million population is now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees," said Fleming.

More than 30 percent of Somali children currently suffer acute malnutrition, the highest rate in Africa, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia who last week called for action to avert deaths.

Mired in almost uninterrupted civil conflict since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre and plagued by recurring natural disasters, Somalia is often described as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

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UNHCR chief visits Kenya, Ethiopia to examine Somali aid
Geneva (AFP) July 6, 2011 - The UN chief for refugees, Antonio Guterres, is travelling to Ethiopia and Kenya to examine the aid response to tens of thousands of Somalis who have fled violence and severe drought.

Some 54,000 people have crossed the borders into Ethiopia and Kenya in search of food and water in June alone, according to data from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Guterres will arrive Thursday in Ethiopia before heading to Kenya on Saturday, his office said. He is scheduled to meet with the authorities, as well as the diplomatic communities in both countries.

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will also visit the over-crowded Dadaab refugee camp, which was built for 90,000 but which is now home to over 380,000 Somali refugees.

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