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Terrorism & Security

Islamic insurgents target foreign aid workers in Somalia

As the violence escalates, observers warn of famine and the worst humanitarian crisis on the African continent.

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The government of Somalia, backed by the Ethiopian Army and the US, has been struggling for two years to ward off a growing Islamist insurgency, factions of which are said to be allied with Al Qaeda. On June 9, the government of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein tried to broker a peace accord with some of the hardline Islamist groups, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

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The June 9 accord gave all sides a month to start enforcing a ceasefire.
But it was quickly rejected by Islamist hardliners including the Shebab group, which insists that the Ethiopian forces should withdraw before any talks start.

Ethiopia currently has thousands of troops stationed in Somalia to assist Mr. Hussein's transitional government. Their continued presence has become a bone of contention between hard-liners and the government. Although he offered no timetable for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, Hussein told AFP that he is willing to engage with Shebab – which is said to be linked to Al Qaeda – if that will ensure peace.

Violence has soared since the breakdown of talks, pitting Ethiopian soldiers against Islamist insurgents, with civilians often caught in between. On Monday, several civilians were killed in the crossfire, the Associated Press reports.

Hours of fighting in the Somali capital killed at least seven civilians, including three young siblings who were leaving a religious school when a mortar landed nearby, witnesses said Monday.

As the fighting continues, an editorial published this week in Garowe Online, an independent online Somali news organization, warned that Somalia risks falling back into the famine conditions that ravaged the country in the 1990s.

The numbers say it all: by the end of 2008, the United Nations estimates that 3.5 million people in Somalia will be in need of food assistance. This estimate is according to the UN's World Food Program, whose country director for Somalia, Mr. Peter Goossens, told reporters in London on July 18 that parts of Somalia "could be in the grips of disaster similar to the 1992-1993 famine" if sufficient humanitarian assistance is not delivered in the coming months.
There is no question that Somalia, in the conflict-ridden Horn of Africa region, is now facing what many have termed "the worst humanitarian crisis" on the entire continent.

As famine looms, world leaders are not paying heed to the growing problems in Somalia, an editorial from the Post Global blog on The Washington Post website warns.

While the world looks elsewhere, Somalia is in flames. The nation just topped a list of the world's most unstable countries by Foreign Policy magazine, and the United Nations has declared the humanitarian situation there "worse than Darfur."...
The United States should first pressure Ethiopia to withdraw and bring all Somali factions to the negotiating table.
It can also work within traditional tribal structures to reach out to Somalia's people, effect political change and distribute aid. By reaching out to Somali moderates who would be happy to challenge the extremists themselves, and funding development programs that show a renewed respect for local customs and religion, the United States can help swing the pendulum away from extremists who preach that Islam is under attack from the West.
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