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WFP suspends flights to Somalia


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended flights to Somalia following the war between Ethiopia and the Union of Islamic Courts.

According to WFP Somalia information officer, Mr Said Warsame, the agency has suspended delivery of relief cargo from the port of Kismayo and airdrop operation and passenger flights from Kenya to Somalia.

In a statement, Warsame said the conflict was disrupting the dispatch of humanitarian aid by road within Somalia and also delaying food distributions.

The agency called on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian workers and assistance to move freely and in safety to assist the most vulnerable.

WFP has also temporarily relocated two helicopters and 25 humanitarian workers from Kismayo to Nairobi. The workers include nine WFP staff, 11 crew members, five air operation support staff and two UN security officers involved in air operations in Kismayo.

The move followed a request from authorities in Kismayo due to instability in the country.

Ban on Somali airspace

The air operation to assist up to 500,000 people affected by flooding in South and Central Somalia since November had also been affected by a ban on using Somali airspace declared by the Somalia Transitional Federal Government last Monday.

"UN Common Air Service (Uncas) passenger and cargo flights from Nairobi into Somalia were suspended last Tuesday owing to restrictions in entering Somali airspace," he said.

WFP had planned to deliver 1,000 metric tonnes in the coming weeks through airdrops and airlifts using planes and helicopters. Another 18,000 metric tonnes was to be delivered using trucks and boats to areas affected by flood.

"The quantity of food affected by the suspension of airdrops and helicopter operations is small in tonnage terms but it is very significant especially for famine stricken families affected by floods," he said.

At least 50 trucks carrying food to Afmadow have been stuck in the mud for the last seven weeks owing to floods, added the statement. The airdrops which took place on December 24 and Christmas were the first by WFP in Somalia since 1998 when El Nino floods submerged much of the region.

Since last month, the Agency transported 8,000 tonnes of relief food by land, air and sea which benefited 383,000 people in flood affected areas of South and Central Somalia.

Government troops enter Mogadishu

Meanwhile, witnesses say Somali government troops have entered the outskirts of Mogadishu in a convoy of scores of military vehicles.

According to a report by Reuters, Gunmen hid their uniforms, militias loyal to former warlords reappeared on the streets and residents cowered in fear on Thursday after Islamist leaders abandoned Somalia's capital to advancing government troops..

Mogadishu appeared to be sliding back into years of chaos as the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) fled their base in the face of government fighters backed by Ethiopian tanks and jets.

"We have been defeated. I have removed my uniform. Most of my comrades have also changed into civilian clothes," one former SICC fighter told Reuters in the frantic port city.

"Most of our leaders have fled. I am no longer an Islamic Courts' soldier."

Gunfire and outbreaks of looting marked the end of months of relative stability that began when the Islamists chased US-backed warlords from the city in June and imposed sharia, Islamic law.

The Islamists were initially welcomed by residents weary of clan-based fighting and extortion at a myriad of checkpoints manned by rifle-toting warlord militiamen.

But the welcome grew cold in some quarters after they banned miraa (khat) , a hugely popular narcotic leaf, and shut down makeshift cinemas showing Bollywood films and soccer World Cup .

Major Somali Islamic Official Reportedly in Kenya

A major official of the Islamic Courts Union is reportedly in Kenya to discuss with Kenyan government representatives the situation in Somalia. As Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi, there appears to be some confusion as to the details of the meeting.

A Western aid worker with operations in Somalia told VOA that Ibrahim Adow, a foreign affairs official with the Islamic Courts Union, flew out of Mogadishu early Thursday morning to Nairobi at the request of the Kenyan government, ostensibly to discuss with them the recent fighting.

The aid worker had no details about the meeting.

Attempts by VOA to contact Kenyan government officials for verification were unsuccessful.

Somalia's foreign affairs minister, Esmael Mohamud Hurreh, tells VOA that he has also heard of Adow's presence in Kenya but could not get any information when he contacted the Kenyan government and the European Commission.

"The Kenyans told me it's the Europeans who brought them here, and the Europeans are telling me it's the Kenyans who brought them here," Hurreh says. "And that's a mystery we want to know."

Hurreh says he thinks everyone wants to distance themselves from the Islamic Courts Union. He says he has heard that top Islamic officials have fled to Djibouti, Eritrea, and other locations.

After a week of heavy fighting, the Islamists Thursday abandoned Mogadishu as government troops encircled the city, the Islamists' base.

Earlier this year, the Islamic Courts Union seized control of the capital and other areas before reaching a truce with the government.

The two sides signed a peace accord in September that, among other things, called for the creation of a joint national army and police force.

But negotiations Somalia's transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union that were meant to finalize the accord collapsed in Sudan on November 2.

The Islamists said they would not continue the negotiations until all Ethiopian troops that are supporting the transitional government leave Somalia.

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