Somali rebels maintain aid ban
Somalia's al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents said yesterday that a ban on foreign aid groups remained in force and rejected a UN declaration that parts of the country had been hit by famine.
The announcement by Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage will likely scuttle plans by aid groups to deliver emergency supplies to the rebel-held regions, weeks after the insurgents said they had lifted the ban.
Relief groups had welcomed the easing of the two-year-old ban when the rebels appealed for help.
"Those earlier banned groups are not welcome to serve in our area of control," Rage said in a broadcast on the Islamist Al Furqaan radio.
"There is drought in Somalia but not famine -- what is declared by the UN is 100 percent false," Rage said. "The declaration of famine is political and is a lie with hidden agendas."
The hardline rebels banned several foreign aid agencies from 2009, accusing them of being Western spies and Christian crusaders.
They include the World Food Programme, United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Safety and Security, the UN Political Office for Somalia and UN Mine Action.
Somalia is the worst affected country in the drought-hit Horn of Africa region, with malnutrition rates the highest in the world.
Tens of thousands have already died in Somalia and thousands fled to neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya in recent months, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Some 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are facing starvation triggered by a prolonged drought described as the region's worst in decades.
Shebab armed men abducted on Thursday kidnapped a newly-appointed women's minister, 32-year-old Asha Osman Aqiil in Balad, a day after she was named in an 18-member cabinet in which she is the only female.