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Issue 497/ 06th - 12th August 2011
'Splits In Somalia's Islamists Could Open Door To More Famine Aid
Growing rifts within Somalia's Islamist insurgency are raising hopes of increased food deliveries to famine areas which so far have been off limits.
By Mike Pflanz
Nairobi, Kenya, August 6, 2011 – There is a "very active and contested" debate over allowing in Western supplies between al-Shabaab's moderates and its hardliners, some linked to al-Qaeda, sources said.
Agreements to deliver humanitarian relief have quietly been made with some of the group's field commanders, far from its leadership in Mogadishu and the southern town of Kismayo.
"I think the momentum is now with the pragmatists who are saying let the aid agencies come in because of the gravity of the situation," said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"The clan elders are also putting a lot of pressure on al-Shabaab, saying we cannot let our people die, if you continue on this crazy path we will rise up against you.
"I think the writing is on the wall for al-Shabaab, they will have no choice but to let the aid in."
Diplomatic sources echoed Mr Abdi's assessment, but added that the "situation is very, very fragile" on the ground.
More than 2.2 million of the 3.7 million Somalis who need urgent food aid live in al-Shabaab's territory.
Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, said yesterday that British aid was reaching areas including those controlled by the Islamists.
Aid flights had landed at Baidoa, he said, as part of "a large scale aid effort delivered by aid agencies on the ground [that is] set to get emergency help to over two million people. Thousands more tones will arrive shortly".
It is hoped that an increased proportion of that may reach al-Shabaab regions.
The group's leadership, many of them bent on a regional or global jihad against Western interests, have imposed a blanket ban on most United Nations food deliveries to their areas.
But al-Shabaab's provincial commanders have a much more nationalist agenda focused only on fighting the government in Mogadishu.
Until mid-2010, "humanitarian organizations were still able to function in many al-Shabaab-held areas due to productive dialogue built on long-established relationships within local communities," according to a recent UN report.
But since the hardliners expanded their control, the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported, "the single greatest obstacle to humanitarian assistance has been the denial of access – principally by elements of al-Shabaab". Overcoming that obstacle is now increasingly a life or death decision.
Famine is now likely to expand "to five or six more regions" in Somalia, up from the current two, Baroness Amos, the UN's aid chief has warned.
"We, of course, stand ready to increase our response on a massive scale," she said.
"We have the capacity. But we also face armed groups who say they do not want us there. We are doing all we can, through negotiations, to change that situation."
Source: The Telegraph