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Gunmen In Central Somalia Kill Food Convoy Driver

Gunmen in central Somalia kill driver of UN food convoy

8 May 2008 - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has denounced the killing of one of its truck drivers in Somalia - the second incident of its kind this year - by militiamen who stopped the agency's food convoy at an illegal checkpoint in the central part of the strife-torn nation.

"We condemn this senseless killing and, once again, urge all parties to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian staff and cargo across the country," said WFP Somalia Country Director Peter Goossens.

Yesterday's attack occurred after the convoy of 12 WFP-contracted trucks, loaded with food, was stopped at an illegal checkpoint, 30 kilometres north of Galkayo in Mudug region, by militiamen who demanded money. A gunman opened fire on the trucks, and shot one of the drivers who later died in hospital. The 275 metric tons of WFP food aboard the trucks was not looted.

This is the second WFP convoy driver to be killed this year in Somalia, where a deteriorating security situation has made the delivery of assistance to vulnerable people increasingly difficult. On 13 February, the leader of a convoy of WFP-contracted trucks was shot dead by a militiaman in southern Somalia.

WFP warned that nutrition indicators across Somalia are rising to "alarming" levels, with acute malnutrition among young children in some areas, including the Central Region, the Shabelles, Hiran and the southern Nugal region in Puntland, reaching 17 per cent, which is above the emergency threshold.

The humanitarian situation in the country - which has not had a functioning government since 1991 - has been getting worse in recent months due to rising insecurity, soaring food prices and a worsening drought. While WFP had been aiming to feed some 1.4 million people in Somalia, that number is rising as a result of increasing needs.

In addition, WFP this month entered into a partnership with the non-governmental organization, CARE International, to feed an additional 700,000 people in central Somalia between June and August.

"The central region has tipped into a major humanitarian crisis, and we are partnering with CARE to help deliver food to everyone who needs it," Mr. Goossens said. The region has been particularly hard hit by civil unrest, coupled with a recent increase in major security incidents.

Meanwhile, food riots erupted this week in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, due to soaring prices of items such as cereal, which have soared by up to 375 per cent in the last year and are now at historic highs.

In a related development, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia has voiced optimism ahead of talks between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, scheduled to begin in Djibouti on 10 May.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said he was happy for Somalia as "this is the first time that the Somali parties have agreed to meet with limited number of delegates, on a scheduled date within a specified time frame and at a planned venue."

"This is a clear indication that Somalis are willing to respect their commitments when they believe in what they are doing," he added.

The meeting, which will be attended by seven delegates from each party, is expected to help advance the agenda for peace and will then be enlarged by a further 15 participants from each side.

"The overall objective of this meeting is to prepare the ground for a peaceful and brotherly relationship between Somalis and to initiate the first step towards real stability, true peace and sincere reconciliation based on forgiveness," Mr. Ould-Abdallah said, adding that progress in these areas should pave the way for concrete UN assistance for durable stability in Somalia.

ENDS

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