Rebels loot UN health agency

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The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday its offices in southern Somalia were looted during rebel raids while children's relief agency UNICEF said its base in the area remained occupied.

The United Nations organisations were among six ordered closed by Islamist Shebab rebels in areas under their control on Monday.

Equipment belonging to the relief agencies was taken in raids condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as "a brazen act" preventing them from providing life-saving assistance.

The WHO, which has about 250 staff based in four offices and seven hubs in Somalia, said medical supplies and a laptop were taken during a raid on its Baidoa and Wajid offices but all employees were safe.

"For the time being, national and international organisations providing health care in the area have enough supplies to continue health services," said spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.

"However, WHO is the main provider of medical supplies, and there could be shortages if access is not re-established soon."

UNICEF said its office and warehouse in Baidou remained occupied on Tuesday and expressed concern that 15 children with severe malnutrition were discharged from its care.

"We are extremely concerned and we are studying the situation very carefully," said spokeswoman Marixie Mercado, without giving any details about the occupying forces.

The refugee agency UNHCR said it was still assessing the impact of the Shebab action on its humanitarian efforts in the country.

"This comes at a time of dire humanitarian crisis in southern and central parts of Somalia," said spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

"After drought and famine, continued fighting and heavy rains further aggravate already dramatic condition of displaced Somali civilians."

The Shebab announced on Monday that it was banning "any organisation found to be supporting or actively engaged in activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic State".

Ban Ki-moon has called for the immediate lifting of the ban and the return of seized property.

The Shebabs' raids leave just a handful of aid agencies able to operate in rebel-held areas, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Medecins Sans Frontieres, and risks worsening the crisis there further.

The UN has warned that nearly 250,000 people face imminent starvation in southern Somalia, the main base for the hardline Shebab, with several areas under famine or emergency conditions.

© 2011 AFP

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