(Removes reference to WFP in para 6)
* Somalia government warns of humanitarian disaster
* Rebels only want Islamic aid - locals
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Jan 12 The International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it had suspended food
distribution to 1.1 million people in central and southern
Somalia after Islamist militants blocked deliveries in parts of
the famine-hit country.
A Somali government minister told Reuters the suspension
could worsen the humanitarian crisis in a country where 250,000
Somalis already live in famine conditions and a total of 4
million need aid, according to U.N. figures.
The ICRC, which was one of the last agencies working in
rebel-held areas, said militants had stopped its trucks since
mid-December in the Middle Shabelle and Galgadud regions.
"The suspension will continue until we receive assurances
from the authorities controlling those areas that distributions
can take place unimpeded and reach all those in need, as
previously agreed," Patrick Vial, head of the ICRC delegation
for Somalia, said in a statement.
The ICRC said it was talking to al Shabaab, an Islamist
rebel group linked to al Qaeda, to try and solve the problem as
soon as possible.
The rebels, who are hostile to Western intervention in the
lawless Horn of Africa country, outlawed 16 relief agencies in
Somalia has been mired in anarchy since warlords toppled
military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Abdullahi Haji Hassan, Somalia's agriculture minister, said
the action by the rebels would cause another humanitarian
crisis, and called for international help to avert a disaster.
"Al Shabaab wants the Somalis to perish," Hassan told
Reuters on Thursday.
The suspension also hit the ICRC's distribution of seeds and
fertilisers to farmers, part or its emergency operation begun
last October to combat the effects of severe drought and war.
"We are in touch with local representatives of al Shabaab
where the events have occurred - 140 trucks have been blocked
since mid-December," ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Servane Desjonqueres
Somalia is the ICRC's second largest humanitarian programme
after Afghanistan, with an initial budget of about 70.2 million
Swiss francs for this year.
Its programmes to help severely malnourished children, and
provide health care and clean water in other parts of Somalia,
including Mogadishu, were continuing, Desjonqueres said.
"The suspension of aid will have effect on both civilians
and al Shabaab ... Al Shabaab fighters are parasites," Hirsi
Yusuf, the director of Somalia's federal and reconciliation
ministry told Reuters.
Residents said the militants wanted only Islamic agencies to
provide aid in the areas it controls, and many would flee to the
capital Mogadishu to find food.
"Al Shabaab halted the ICRC aid a fortnight ago. Al Shabaab
wants only Islamic organisations like Islamic Relief which also
operates here," local elder Mohamed Nur told Reuters from
Bardhere District in southwest Somalia.
"We the people need ICRC to continue aid but we have no
power to challenge al Shabaab. The rebels openly told ICRC that
Islamic organisations brought abundant food."
(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar in
Mogadishu; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)