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WFP Sees No Quick Solution to Somalia Crisis

The World Food Program says it does not see any quick solution to the crisis, which forced the agency to stop its humanitarian operations in southern Somalia earlier this week. But, WFP says it has no plans to leave Somalia and the lines of communication remain open with the armed groups that provoked the suspension.

The World Food Program emphasizes its suspension of food aid to one million people in Southern Somalia is only temporary. It says its operations on behalf of two million hungry people are continuing in the rest of the country, including the capital Mogadishu.

But, WFP spokeswoman, Emilia Casella agrees the situation faced by people in the southern part of the country is dire and is likely to worsen.

"We do anticipate that it is possible there will be movement or could be movement to other parts of Somalia by some people who have been affected or towards the borders," she said. "And, so for that reason, the staff and the supplies and equipment that were in our six offices in the southern part of Somalia have already been moved from that area to areas of Somalia where we are continuing to work."

Casella says WFP is working with its partner organizations to pre-position supplies in areas where demand could increase.

The World Food Program stopped the distribution of food aid to one million beneficiaries in Southern Somalia on Tuesday. This followed escalating attacks against its staff and unacceptable demands by the al-Shabab Islamist group, which has links to al-Qaida.

WFP says al-Shabab and other armed groups demanded the agency dismiss women from all posts and pay protection money to guarantee the safety of its staff.

Nevertheless, Casella says WFP is continuing to talk with all the armed groups and local administrations in areas where it works.

"We have not closed any doors. We have not closed any lines of communication," she said. "What we are hoping is that a resolution can be found so that we can have assurances that humanitarian principles will be respected and that the safety of our staff will be respected and guaranteed so that we can return to working in the southern part of Somalia as we are continuing to work in the rest of Somalia."

The United Nations says there has been a steady reduction of aid workers in southern Somalia over the past year because of the dangers. It says the WFP suspension is just the latest chapter in this ongoing saga.

U.N. officials say it has been difficult to maintain humanitarian operations in the face of constant threats, extortion and looting. Humanitarian staff members have been assaulted, kidnapped or murdered.

Despite these enormous risks, the United Nations says it will not abandon the people of Somalia.