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Somalia Asks Medical Group to Reconsider Withdrawal

  • VOA News

A Somali woman holds a newborn baby at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, Jowhar, north of Mogadishu, Aug. 3, 2007.

A Somali woman holds a newborn baby at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, Jowhar, north of Mogadishu, Aug. 3, 2007.

Somalia's government has asked aid group Doctors Without Borders to reconsider its planned withdrawal from the country.

Somali Minister of Human Development and Public Services Dr. Maryan Qasim says the group's decision "will directly affect the lives of thousands of vulnerable people" and could lead to a "catastrophic humanitarian crisis."

The medical aid group, known by its French acronym MSF, said Wednesday it is ending all programs in Somalia because of attacks on its staff and what it called the government's tolerance for such attacks.

In a statement Thursday, Qasim said the government understands the challenges MSF is facing and that the government "is ready to help overcome them."

MSF has operated for more than 20 years in war-torn Somalia, an environment where medical care was otherwise scarce.

The group says that last year alone it provided medical consultations to more than 620,000 people, admitted more than 41,000 to hospitals, and delivered 7,300 babies.

It accuses both the government and armed groups of allowing the killing, assaulting and abduction of aid workers. MSF says 16 of its staff members have been killed in Somalia over the years.

The aid group says it will close medical programs in 11 locations, including the capital, Mogadishu.

A United Nations report last month said Somalia is still wracked by corruption and internal unrest, despite installation of a new government last year.

The new government and the removal of insurgent group al-Shabab from Mogadishu and other major cities sparked hope for a new era of peace. However, al-Shabab continues to carry out periodic attacks, and the U.N. reports said the group has retained most of its military strength.

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