Senior United Nations officials today voiced grave concern over the seizure by members of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab insurgent group of property belonging to United Nations agencies and several non-governmental organizations (NGOS) striving to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the country’s south.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the seizure “in the strongest possible terms,” saying that the “brazen” action prevented the relief organizations from providing life-saving assistance to those in need.
“The Secretary-General demands that Al-Shabaab vacate the premises and return seized property to the affected agencies and NGOs,” said a statement issued by his spokesperson. “He calls for the ban imposed today by Al-Shabaab against these humanitarian organizations to be lifted immediately.”
Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that any disruption of relief efforts threatens to undermine the fragile progress made in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands people affected by a severe food crisis caused by the devastating drought in the Horn of African earlier this year.
Famine conditions could return to some of the affected areas in Somalia if relief work is interfered with, Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement.
She also called upon groups associated with Al-Shabaab to withdraw immediately from humanitarian compounds seized in the south-central regions of Bakool, Bay and Hiraan, and Lower Shabelle in the south, and to desist from any further actions which would threaten humanitarian operations and the safety of aid workers.
Humanitarian relief efforts have saved thousands of lives since the declaration of famine in a number of areas in July, but the situation in central and southern Somalia remains critical. Four million people are still in crisis and 250,000 face famine, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which Ms. Amos heads.
Humanitarian organizations working in Somalia remain strictly neutral, with their only task being to save lives, she said, urging all parties to the conflict in Somalia to respect international humanitarian law.
Press reports indicated that Al-Shabaab had issued a statement banning 16 relief organizations, including several UN agencies, from working in areas under the group’s control, accusing them of “illicit activities and misconduct.”
Meanwhile, representatives of Somalia’s civil society attending a consultative meeting in the capital, Mogadishu, have expressed full support for an agreed roadmap on ending the country’s transition period and usher in stability and effective governance.
“I am very optimistic that your presence here is a major landmark and milestone,” said Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia at the end of the three-day civil society consultative meeting on ending the transition. “Civil society is the bridge between political differences. The power is in your hands – help us.”
The meeting brought together 60 representatives of religious leaders, clan elders, the business community, the diaspora, youth and women’s groups. It was facilitated by the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), and was also attended by representatives of the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs), the Puntland and Galmudug regional administrations, as well as the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a group.