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UN to Boost Presence in Somalia

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The United Nations and other international organizations will increase its national and international staff presence in Somalia within the next two months, according to a senior U.N official.  The announcement came as the al-Qaida-linked Somali insurgent group al-Shabab banned three Christian aid organizations from operating in areas under its control.

Speaking in Nairobi, the United Nations Special Representative Augustine Mahiga said the United Nations would begin to relocate its Somalia operations from neighboring Kenya within the next 60 days.

"The U.N. has taken a leading role in enhancing the peace process in Somalia.  We have a big establishment in Nairobi on a temporary basis that should be relocating to Mogadishu at the earliest possible opportunity, security permitting," he said.

Al-Shabab, the insurgent group said to control much of southern and central Somalia, Monday announced a ban on three Christian aid organizations.  An official press release accused World Vision, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and Diakonia of spreading corrupted Christian ideologies in the Muslim country.

The move came after Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the deaths of Christian aid workers in Afghanistan, including six Americans, a Briton and a German.

Speaking to VOA, World Vision Somalia spokesperson Amanda Koech said although World Vision is a Christian organization motivated by Christian values, its sole purpose is to relieve the suffering of some of the most needy people.

"The statement is unfortunate especially at a time when there are more than 3.6 million people in Somalia who need urgent humanitarian aid, of whom over 700,000 are children.  If conditions allow, we do not foresee ourselves leaving those needy children;  we want to work with them for as long as we can," Koech said.

Aside from a handful of organizations still operating in Mogadishu, much of Somalia's humanitarian presence is currently based in the autonomous and semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland, both considered relatively safe for aid groups.  The new proposal will see the U.N. increase its presence in these areas.

Officials in Puntland say security forces have been launching raids in mountainous parts of the region against an al-Shabab-linked militia.  Analysts say the remote mountains could be the ideal place to provide cover for the growing number of Somalia's foreign jihadi fighters.

But it is Mogadishu that will provide the biggest challenge.  U.N. Special Representative Augustine Mahiga says a small triangle of the capital, created and protected by the African Union peacekeeping contingent known as AMISOM, will be extended to allow international groups to move gradually into the city.

"For Mogadishu, because of obvious security reasons, we are going to take a much more cautious approach.  But the decision to deploy there has been made," he said.

"Mahiga says AMISOM is currently completing facilities to accommodate U.N. staff around Mogadishu's airport, the site of the peacekeeping contingent's own headquarters. When complete, the United Nations intends to deploy staff on a rotational basis."

There is hope an increase in AMISOM troop numbers in Mogadishu, approved in the wake of an al-Shabab bomb attack in Uganda last month, will improve security in time for the move.

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