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Somali Islamists block famine aid groups -

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Somali Islamists block famine aid groups

Meredith Griffiths reported this story on Saturday, July 23, 2011 08:21:00

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Aid groups took heart when the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab announced that it
would overturn a ban and let foreign workers into the country to help people left hungry by severe
and protracted drought.

But now, just two weeks later, the Al-Shabab group seems to have changed its mind. It now says
banned aid groups won't be allowed in. Al-Shabab has also accused the United Nations of
exaggerating the severity of the drought for political purposes.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: As devastating images of starving Somalis are broadcast around the world, this
is the last thing aid agencies want to hear.

SHEIKH ALI RAGHE (translated): The agencies we banned before are still banned, some of those we
banned were involved in political activities, others were destroying the lives of our people.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Sheikh Ali Raghe is the spokesman for the Al-Shabab Islamist group which
controls the two southern regions of Somalia that the UN says have been the worst hit by drought. A
drought so bad, that on Wednesday the it officially declared a famine.

But Sheikh Ali Raghe says the UN is exaggerating.

SHEIKH ALI RAGHE (translated): The biggest responsibility for this problem lies with United
Nations. Their last report says that there is famine in Somalia, we say this is utter nonsense, it
is 100 per cent baseless and sheer propaganda, there are droughts in Somalia, there is a shortage
of rains, but it's not as bad as they put it

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The UN World Food Programme flatly denies that. Africa spokesman David Orr is
in Kenya.

DAVID ORR: We've seen the evidence of the emergency in the faces and wasted limbs of the
malnourished children who are being forced to trek out of the famine zone, sometimes for days and
for weeks.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Three thousand cross the borders in Kenya and Ethiopia each day but David Orr
warns not everyone is well enough to leave.

DAVID ORR: It's an absolute imperative that the humanitarian community gets access to the place
where aid is most needed. People are dying in there, and it's really, really important that we act
now.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The World Food Programme is one of the aid groups that Al-Shabab kicked out in
2009, but despite the latest ban, David Orr told Reuters the World Food Programme is still going to
try to get to southern Somalia.

Another aid group, Medicins Sans Frontieres, does have local staff on the ground in Al-Shabab
controlled areas. But spokesman Kenneth Lavelle says they're trying to get more resources in there.

KENNETH LAVELLE: It's certainly our ambition and we need access, so if we can address the issues
inside Somalia, it's a lot easier for the people, they don't have to walk for two, three weeks to
try to find a refuge in a neighbouring country where they're not even guaranteed the minimum access
to the minimum humanitarian standards.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's Kenneth Lavelle from Medecins Sans Frontieres ending that report from
Meredith Griffiths.