Somalia’s hardline Islamists invite aid groups

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Somalia’s hardline Islamists on Sunday welcomed international aid groups to regions under their control to assist thousands of hunger-stricken people.

“We are openly calling aid agencies to operate freely in the region in order to help thousands of people in the drought-hit areas of the country,” Islamist Shebab commander Sheikh Mukhtar Robow told reporters.

“We appreciate how they have assisted the people in the past and wish they continue doing the same,” he added.

The Shebab control much of southern and central Somalia.

Aid workers have been frequently targeted by gunmen in the lawless Horn of Africa country, where up to 3.25 million people — almost half of its population — are in need of humanitarian aid.

Earlier this month, four United Nations aid workers were kidnapped in southern Somalia but freed hours later.

The spate of kidnappings has complicated aid delivery to the neediest in Somalia, a country long plagued by civil wars and humanitarian emergencies.

The country has had no effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.

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