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UN Hopes to Resume Food Aid in Somalia
By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS
GENEVA, 24 Oct 2007 - The United Nations hopes to resume food distribution to tens of thousands of Somalis in the country's war-shattered capital now that the government has released a top aid official, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Wednesday.
Idris Osman, head of World Food Program operations in Somalia, was freed in Mogadishu on Tuesday after being jailed for nearly a week. He was seized Oct. 17 when dozens of armed security agents stormed a U.N. compound.
After Osman's arrest, the U.N. agency shut down food deliveries to about 76,000 recipients in the Somali capital, citing security problems. About 1.5 million Somalis need food aid and protection — 50 percent more that at the start of the year — due to inadequate rains, internal displacement due to violence and a potential cholera epidemic, according to the U.N.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Thousands of Somalis have died this year in fighting between Islamic insurgents and government troops and their Ethiopian allies. The insurgents controlled much of southern Somalia last year until they were ousted by Ethiopian soldiers supporting the shaky U.N.-backed government.
They have since staged near daily attacks against the government and its Ethiopian backers, vowing to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war until Somalia becomes an Islamic state.
On Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed five civilians and wounded 16 when it hit a minibus full of passengers in Mogadishu, witnesses and hospital staff said.
John Holmes, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told The Associated Press in an interview in Geneva that the U.N. would continue its humanitarian work in Somalia despite the violence.
"It is difficult and dangerous, but it was difficult and dangerous before," he said. "We have a responsibility to try and help the people who really need help. And they really do need help, both in Mogadishu and outside."
Holmes said U.N. officials didn't know why Somali security forces arrested Osman, but he said everything in the country is tied to politics, including food aid.
"The politics are very complicated and getting more complicated and difficult," he said. "I suspect he may have gotten caught up in that in some way, not as an individual but what the World Food Program was doing at that particular moment. But we really don't know."
Holmes said the U.N. would push for answers from the government, which had only provided vague explanations for the detention, saying it was related to terrorism. Osman, a Somali, has left the country and is working in Nairobi, Kenya, Holmes said.
Associated Press Writer Salad Duhul contributed to this report from Mogadishu, Somalia.