November 29, 2011
Al Shabaab rebels stormed and looted offices of aid organisations in famine-hit Somalia on Monday, the United Nations said, and the rebels announced a ban on 16 relief agencies from areas they control.
Rebels occupied agency offices and took supplies in southern and central areas at a time when a quarter of a million Somalis face starvation and Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian forces are fighting the Al Qaeda-inspired group.
Al Shabaab, which controls large areas of the anarchic country, said it had "decided to permanently revoke the permissions of the following organisations to operate inside Somalia", naming 16 aid groups.
These included agencies like the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN children's agency UNICEF and the Norwegian and Danish Refugee Councils.
The International Committee for the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres escaped the ban.
Aid sources said Al Shabaab rebels had occupied UNICEF, WHO and non-governmental organisation offices in Baidoa and six other the rebel-controlled towns.
"Al Shabaab have just started to loot UNICEF and WHO compounds in the town - they stormed and seized the compounds two hours ago. Now I can see them carrying the agencies' equipment out," Baidoa resident Ali Abdullahi told Reuters.
Another resident in Wajid said he saw Al Shabaab fighters forcing security guards out of UNICEF's compound.
"Immediately, they started looting vaccinations and even the freezers in which they are stored in," Fadumo Ibrahim told Reuters.
UNICEF's Jaya Murthy told Reuters the agency's offices had been occupied by Al Shabaab in Baidoa on Monday.
"All of our staff that were in the office at the same time were asked to leave. All of our staff are safe. Our Baidoa office is currently still being occupied.
"No other UNICEF office is currently being occupied and all staff in Somalia are safe," Mr Murthy told Reuters in Geneva.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, through his spokesman, condemned in the strongest terms possible the seizure of property and equipment belonging to aid groups and UN agencies.
The UN under secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said she was extremely concerned by the looting, urging the rebel group to reverse the announcement and withdraw from seized compounds of aid groups.
"Any disruption to ongoing humanitarian efforts threatens to undermine the fragile progress made this year, and could bring back famine conditions in several areas," Ms Amos said in a statement.
The rebels, who are hostile to Western intervention, banned food aid last year in the areas they controlled and kicked many groups out, saying aid created dependency. They lifted the ban in July when the food crisis hit critical levels, only to re-impose it later.
Source: ABC Online