Somali minister abducted

2011-07-21 14:22

Mogadishu – Al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents abducted and detained Somalia’s newly appointed women’s minister while she was on her way to take up office.

Asha Osman Aqiil was named women and family affairs minister yesterday.

She was kidnapped by al-Shebab fighters in Balad town, some 30km north of the capital Mogadishu.

“Asha Osman Aqiil ... is in a jail in Balad town ... after she was kidnapped on her way to Mogadishu to take her new post,” said Ahmed Sheikh Mohamud, a clan elder.

“It is unfortunate that she is in the hands of the wrong people and we are praying that she is freed,” a lawmaker told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Aqiil’s kidnapping is likely to cause security concerns for foreign relief groups planning to resume operations in al-Shebab-controlled regions after the rebels lifted a ban on their work and asked for aid in the face of a severe drought.

The hardline rebels rule much of southern and central Somalia where they have imposed strict Islamic laws, including prohibiting women from holding public office.

In the capital Mogadishu, they have waged bloody battles to overthrow the country’s Western-backed government they accuse of being an apostate administration.

The government’s authority in the war-ravaged capital is limited to just a few areas where it survives under the protection of a 9 000-strong African Union force.

Somalia is the worst affected country in the drought-hit Horn of Africa region.

The UN yesterday declared famine in two regions in the south of the country, and which are under al-Shebab control.

Nearly half of Somalia’s estimated 10 million people are facing a food crisis, with malnutrition rates currently the highest in the world.

Relief groups and donors said today that they were ready to test al-Shebab’s pledge to allow aid through to the regions they control, provided their aid would reach those most in need.

The kidnapping of foreigners is rampant in Somalia, a Horn of Africa country ravaged by cycles of devastating violence since the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

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