Somali militants ban 16 aid, UN agencies
Mogadishu - The Somali militant group al-Shabaab on Monday banned 16 aid groups - including a half dozen UN agencies - from central and southern Somalia, a rejection of assistance that falls in line with the group's sceptical view of the outside world.
The banning of the aid groups is likely to seriously affect poor residents, hundreds of thousands of whom are suffering from the region's drought and famine. A yearlong drought wiped out crops and animals herds in the region, killing tens of thousands of people over the last six months and forcing tens of thousands more to flee as refugees.
The al-Qaeda-linked militant group's decision seemed to be rooted in the belief that aid groups are serving as spies for outside countries or as vehicles to undermine support for al-Shabaab's harsh and strict interpretation of Islam.
Witnesses in the towns of Beldweyne and Baidoa said armed, masked men entered aid offices Monday and seized equipment. The United Nations was preparing a statement in response to al-Shabaab's closures but didn't have an immediate comment.
Al-Shabaab said in long statement in English that a "meticulous yearlong review and investigation" had been carried out by what it said was a committee called the Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies. The committee documented in a report "the illicit activities and misconducts of some of the organisations."
Al-Shabaab accused the 16 aid groups of disseminating information on the activities of Muslims and militant fighters, financing, aiding and abetting "subversive" groups seeking to destroy the basic tenants of the Islamic penal system, and of "persistently galvanising the local population" against the full establishment of Shari'ah law, a harsh and punitive interpretation of Islam.
Al-Shabaab carries out amputations, stonings and beheadings as punishment. The group also frequently recruits child fighters.
Because of its policies limiting the work of aid groups in its territory - especially the work of the World Food Programme - areas under its control were declared famine zones by the UN in July.
Some of those famine declarations have since been downgraded, but the UN says 250 000 still face the immediate risk of starvation.
Among the agencies al-Shabaab banned on Monday were Unicef, the World Health Organization, UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council, German Agency For Technical Co-operation (GTZ), Action Contre la Faim, Solidarity, Saacid and Concern.
The al-Shabaab statement accused the groups of misappropriating funds, collecting data, and working with "international bodies" to promote secularism, immorality and the "degrading values of democracy in an Islamic country".