Somalia: Leaders decry killing, abduction of aid workers

NAIROBI, 31 July 2008 (IRIN) – Representatives of religious groups in Somalia have condemned the killing and abduction of humanitarian workers, saying the increase of such incidents was worrying.

“We are totally against the killing of aid workers and call upon all Somali people to embrace peace,” Sheikh Abdulkadir Somow, spokesman for Ahlu Suna Waljamaa, the largest religious group in the country, told IRIN on 31 July from Mogadishu, where a meeting of religious groups was being held.

The first phase of the meeting, which started on 28 July, focused on peace and reconciliation as well as on the killing and abduction of aid workers. The meeting is expected to continue into next week, Somow added.

According to humanitarian organisations active in Somalia, at least 20 aid workers have been killed and 13 others abducted since the start of 2008.

In June, four were killed and seven others abducted, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Somalia).

“The Somali civil society and media were equally hard hit with killings of a well-known peace activist in Beletweyne and a journalist in Kismayo,” OCHA reported in June. “Unfortunately, July started off on an equally sad note with the killing of a senior UN staff member in Mogadishu on 6 July.”

Somow told IRIN the killings and abductions were against Islamic teachings “and everything must be done to ensure they come to an end”.

Among other resolutions, he said, the religious groups expressed their full support for the Djibouti peace accord, under which the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and an Eritrea-based opposition alliance signed an agreement on 9 June to cease hostilities.

Religious leaders, he added, must take a more active role in the country’s peace process for lasting stability to be achieved. He urged the international community to provide humanitarian aid to Somali people, most of whom were suffering because of drought, conflict, and high food and fuel prices.

On 22 July, officials from five UN agencies and one from CARE International, said a combination of factors – including drought, conflict, the weak Somali shilling and a succession of poor harvests – had increased the number of people needing food and other assistance to 2.6 million – an increase of 40 percent from January.

Mark Bowden, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told a news conference in Nairobi the situation in Somalia was “fluid”, warning that the country was months away from a major crisis.

The situation was likely to deteriorate further, potentially affecting 3.5 million people, or half the total population, he added.

The critical food and livelihood crisis, combined with price hikes, very poor rains in the southern and central parts of the country, violence and limited or no access to the affected populations, had further exacerbated the situation and severely restricted the ability of humanitarian organisations to deliver assistance.

Earlier on 2 July, the government and civil society groups condemned the attacks against aid workers, with a civil society source saying the incidents seemed to reflect a concerted campaign against aid workers.

Abdi Haji Gobdon, the government spokesman, said suggestions of government involvement in such attacks were “nonsense” and that the government had repeatedly condemned these “criminal activities”.

“The government position is that it does not condone the killing or kidnapping of those who are trying to help the Somali people,” he said.

Somalia has had no effective government for over 15 years.

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