Somali government troops storm UN compound and kidnap official

Click here: Guardian Unlimited – Somali government troops storm UN compound and kidnap official

Somali government troops have stormed a UN compound in Mogadishu and arrested the World Food Programme chief in protest at a decision to distribute food relief through a network of mosques.About 60 soldiers forced their way into the WFP offices yesterday morning, taking Idris Osman, a Somali national, into custody at gunpoint and locking him in a cell at the national security services headquarters. No reason was given for the arrest, which promoted an immediate suspension of WFP work in the war-torn capital. But UN officials said it was linked to a new method of food distribution that began on Monday using 42 local mosques to get aid to more than 75,000 people in the city. The WFP, which is struggling to deal with a growing hunger crisis in Somalia, had been unable to directly distribute food in the capital since June 25 due to violence and looting. “Going through the mosques guaranteed us a level of security that the government cannot give,” said a UN official in Nairobi, who requested anonymity.

Though Somalia is almost completely Muslim, the transitional government views mosques, particularly in Mogadishu, with suspicion. The Somali Council of Islamic Courts, which took over the capital last year before being defeated by invading Ethiopian forces, used clerics to help draw in supporters fed up with more than a decade of anarchy in the country.

…Insecurity is so rife that few aid agencies maintain offices in Somalia. The UN only employs Somalis to work in Mogadishu, as expatriates are considered too much of a target. Merely getting food into the country is a huge – and expensive – challenge. Piracy, which was almost completely eliminated during the Islamic Courts’ six-month reign last year, is again rampant, making delivery of food aid by sea highly risky. UN officials believe that members of the government are the protecting the pirates, who demand ransoms of up to $1m (£500m) a ship.

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