A radical Somali Islamist leader has condemned attacks on humanitarian workers in Somalia. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, aid workers have increasingly become a target in the conflict pitting Islamist and clan-based militias against the transitional government and the Ethiopian troops backing it.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of a radical faction of Somalia's Islamist opposition based in the Eritrean capital Asmara, says his group will work to protect aid workers in areas it controls.
U.N. officials and aid agencies have warned in recent weeks that rising insecurity threatens humanitarian efforts in the country. More than 20 aid workers have been killed in Somalia this year, and several more abducted.
A spokesman for Sheikh Aweys' faction, Zakaria Mohamud Haji Abdi, blamed the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government for such attacks.
"We are condemning the killing of the U.N. officials in Mogadishu. And this act is actually perpetrated by the Ethiopian occupation and the militia of Abdullahi Yussuf in order to starve the Somali people whom they have displaced from their homes and from their neighborhoods in Mogadishu," he said.
According to Somalia's Garowe Radio, the transitional government parliament Wednesday condemned attacks on aid workers, blaming them on insurgents trying to derail a peace agreement signed last month with a more moderate opposition faction.
This week Aweys claimed control of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, a coalition of exile Somali opposition leaders based in Asmara, saying he has replaced the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The United States and United Nations say Aweys has ties to al-Qaida.
The Islamist opposition has for some time been effectively split between the two leaders' factions. The divide became more pronounced after Ahmed signed a U.N.-backed peace agreement with the transitional government in June.
That deal has done little to curb violence. Ahmed and many of his backers remain in Djibouti, where that deal was signed.
Abdi said his group, while opposed to attacking U.N. humanitarian officials, is unhappy with the organization's political engagement in the country.
"The United Nations have deserted its duty of care to Somalia when the Ethiopian occupation attacked and captured and occupied Somalia they have not condemned. When they have killed thousands of Somalis and displaced millions of Somalis, up to now the United Nations have not condemned," he said. "Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah who is the representative of Somalia for the Secretary General of the United Nations, he is fully participated in the conspiracy of Somalia, and he is persona non grata in Somalia."
Meanwhile, insurgents battled Ethiopian troops in Central Somalia, with at least seven dead. Somali media also reported that a district commissioner in Southern Somalia was shot and killed late Wednesday by unidentified attackers.
Somalia has been stuck in conflict since the central government collapsed in 1991. Since early 2008, the transitional government and Ethiopian troops have been struggling to combat a growing Iraq-style insurgency that has displaced nearly one million people.
The World Food Program said this week that nearly half of Somalia's population will require food aid in the coming months, and the U.N. humanitarian representative to the country said that only 35 percent of a $637 million international appeal has been provided.