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UN Pulls Staff Out Of Somalia

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Nairobi , October 12, 2006 - The United Nations said on Thursday that it had temporarily pulled international staff out of parts of Somalia - controlled by the Islamic radicals - after receiving "direct written threats".

The threats were issued shortly after an Italian nun and her bodyguard was gunned down in the capital, Mogadishu, on September 17 and Somalia's president narrowly escaped a suicide car bombing a day later.

According to the UN: "Given the insecure environment and the subsequent direct written threats against UN staff, a decision was taken to temporarily relocate all international staff members from southern and central Somalia, as well as Puntland and to suspend all UN missions to Mogadishu until further notice."

UN 'still doing humanitarian work'

No details were given of the threats or the numbers and when staff were withdrawn. One UN official said the threats were from Islamic extremists.

The UN said staff had returned to the semiautonomous region of Puntland, an area that was not occupied by the Islamic forces, who controlled most of southern Somalia.

Despite the pullout, the UN was still carrying out humanitarian work through Somalis staff. The UN was assessing the security situation in the war-ravaged country to see when its international staff could return.

The UN monthly briefing also said that the rise of the Islamic movement in Somalia had "posed a serious challenge to the status quo" and warned of the potential of wider conflict.

Somalia 'has no effective govt'

Already, the country was facing a dire humanitarian situation with 1.8 million Somalis needing aid because of poor rains in the region.

Somalia had not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siyad Barre and later turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

A transitional government was formed in 2004 with the UN help in hopes of restoring order. But, it had struggled to assert authority, while the Islamic movement seized the capital, Mogadishu, in June and now controlled much of the south.

The Islamic group's strict and often severe interpretation of Islam raised memories of Afghanistan's Taliban, which was ousted by a United States-led campaign for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda fighters. It had brought public floggings and executions to Mogadishu.

The US had accused Somalia's Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden had said Somalia was a battleground in his war on the West.

Source: The Associated Press


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