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ICRC Suspends Food Aid to 1.1 Million Somalis

VOA News January 12, 2012

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has suspended aid to 1.1 million Somalis because local authorities linked to al-Shabab have blocked aid to central and southern parts of the country.

The agency charges that since mid-December, local officials have prevented food and seed aid from reaching about 240,000 people in the Middle Shabelle and Galgadud regions.

The Red Cross chief in Somalia, Patrick Vial, said Thursday the suspension will continue until authorities in all al-Shabab-controlled areas allow the aid to move freely.

The Islamist militant group has banned most foreign aid groups from operating in areas under its control, and the ICRC was one of the few agencies serving the drought-stricken areas.

Vial said the agency is "actively seeking" the cooperation of local authorities so the aid can be restored.

Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow Somalia's weak transitional government and impose strict Islamic law. The group has lost ground in the capital, Mogadishu, and other areas in the face of military offensives by government, African Union and Kenyan forces.

Aid groups say the fighting has restricted their ability to help Somalis who urgently need food and other assistance.

Parts of southern Somalia were declared famine zones last year, though those designations have since been lifted.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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