January 19, 2012 / 9:56 AM / 7 years ago

MSF closes largest medical centres in Somali capital

* Closure follows killing of two staff members

* MSF to maintain other operations in Somalia

By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI, Jan 19 (AlertNet) - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has shut down two major medical centres in the Somali capital Mogadishu after two of its aid workers were shot dead by a former colleague last month, the international medical aid agency said on Thursday.

In late December, an Indonesian doctor and a Belgian emergency coordinator were killed by a former local employee who was arrested shortly afterwards, still holding his pistol.

“It is hard to close health services in a location where the presence of our medical teams is genuinely life-saving every day,” Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director, said in a statement.

“But the brutal assassination of our colleagues in Hodan (district) makes it impossible for us to continue working in this district of Mogadishu.”

The attack happened in a bustling part of the capital, which is under the control of the government and African Union troops.

Since then, MSF has withdrawn non-Somali staff from the facility where the attack took place.

The two 120-bed medical centres are the largest of MSF’s 13 projects in Somalia. Their closure halves the medical charity’s presence in Mogadishu. MSF said the facilities were serving an area with a population of 200,000.

Since August 2011, MSF’s medical centres in Hodan District treated close to 12,000 malnourished children and provided measles vaccination or treatment to another 68,000 patients.

There has been an epidemic of measles in Mogadishu, which rapidly kills malnourished children living in overcrowded camps.

Thousands have flocked into the city since the declaration of famine by the U.N. in Somalia six months ago, seeking food and medical help. Some 184,000 destitute displaced people live in squalid camps dotted across the city.

Humanitarian agencies are struggling to provide aid to four million hungry people across Somalia. Three quarters of them live in southern Somalia, largely controlled by al Qaeda-linked militants who only accept Islamic relief organisations in their territory.

Last week the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had suspended food distribution to 1.1 million people in central and southern Somalia last week after al Shabaab rebels blocked deliveries.

Somalia descended into chaos in 1991 after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted and has not had a functional central government since.

The MSF staff who were killed were 53-year-old Belgian Philippe Havet and 44-year-old Indonesian Andrias Karel Keiluhu.

MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, operates in a number of locations in Somalia, providing emergency aid to people suffering from famine and the violence.

In mid-October, gunmen kidnapped two Spanish aid workers for MSF in Kenya, near the Somali border. (Reporting by AlertNet, a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet) (Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by George Obulutsa and Maria Golovnina)

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