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Somalia Famine: Al-Shabab, Militant Group, Permanently Bans Red Cross Food Aid

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- Somali insurgents have shut down food aid distribution by a major aid group because they say the organization is distributing spoiled food in the famine-hit south.

The al-Shabab militant group said late Monday that they were shutting down the Red Cross' operation permanently.

"Despite being offered unrivaled access to all the regions governed by the Mujahideen in South and Central Somalia, the International Committee of the Red Cross has repeatedly betrayed the trust conferred on it by the local population," said the statement from the al-Qaida-linked militia.

The militia said they conducted a "thorough inspection" of the aid group's warehouses and food depots and found that up to 70 percent of the food was "unfit for human consumption, posing a considerable health hazard and exposing the vulnerable recipients to acute illnesses."

A Red Cross spokeswoman said Tuesday that the organization did not have immediate comment.

The Red Cross previously said some trucks were stuck on bad roads for several weeks in the rainy season and the food aboard them was spoiled. That food – about 2,000 tons, according to al-Shabab – was publicly burned after the militia had taken photos of the moldy beans.

The Red Cross began distributing monthly rations to 1.1 million people in October and were midway through the second distribution when a convoy of trucks was stopped by al-Shabab in mid-December in Jowhar. Negotiations for their release took several weeks but were ultimately unsuccessful.

The Red Cross formally suspended operations in al-Shabab areas of southern Somalia on Jan. 12. They are the only agency bringing in food to those famine-hit areas on such a large scale.

The U.N. said more than 13 million people were in need of aid and 750,000 at risk of starvation at the height of the Somali famine. Those at risk of starvation have subsequently dropped to 250,000 after an influx of aid and after seasonal rains arrived, meaning crops could be planted.

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