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Somali Islamist Insurgents Maintain Aid Ban, Deny There Is Famine

A malnourished child from southern Somalia sits in Banadir hospital in Mogadishu.
Somalia's Al-Shebab insurgents have denied lifting their ban on Western aid agencies and called reports of famine "propaganda."

The Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shebab group imposed in 2009 a ban on foreign aid agencies in the areas under their sway, but have recently allowed limited access.

This week, the United Nations said two regions of southern Somalia under rebel control were suffering a famine after the worst drought in more than 50 years, and it prepared for its largest-ever relief effort to combat hunger.

But Al-Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in a radio broadcast: "Those earlier banned groups are not welcome to serve in our area of control." The declaration of famine, he added, is "a lie with hidden agendas."

The United Nations World Food Program was one of those banned.

In Geneva, World Food Program spokeswoman Emilia Casella said that Al-Shebab was not a monolithic organization, adding: "Those in control of various parts of the south are not one controlling command."

The WFP announced that it would begin providing food for 175,000 people in southern Somalia in the coming days.

Some 10 million people are said to need food aid across East Africa but Somalia is the worst affected country.

compiled from agency reports