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Abduction of UN Staffer Delays Aid Distribution Around Somali Capital

In Somalia, aid distribution to about 40 thousand people is being delayed as a result of Saturday's abduction of a prominent staffer of the UN refugee agency. The UNHCR says Hassan Mohamed Ali is the longest-serving agency staff member in Somalia. It describes him as a humanitarian and human rights activist.

Catherine Weibel is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Nairobi, she talked to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether there's any new information about the abduction.

"No, UNHCR has had no news since our colleague was abducted from his house next to Mogadishu on Saturday night. UNHCR has no idea why our colleague was abducted. All we can say is that he was playing a key role in our humanitarian efforts in the area around Mogadishu. He was one of the persons in charge of all the aid and assistance provided to the people who are displaced after having fled Mogadishu," she says.

Ali was well known in the area. Weibel says, "He had been working for many years as a humanitarian for UNHCR and he was providing help…until the day he was taken from his home, where he was living with his family, with his wife and children."

The abduction has affected agency efforts. "For the moment, we are still trying to assess the situation, but of course it will affect our operations… He had been in charge of aid to about 40,000 people around Mogadishu a month ago. And there was a second wave of distribution, which was going to take place in three different places around Mogadishu, and of course these are probably going to be postponed."

Weibel says it's unclear how long the distribution might be delayed, but the delay will have consequences. "The people who have fled Mogadishu and who are currently on the road living in very precarious shelters…they definitely need help…especially to protect their families from the rains, which have become very heavy in the past two weeks," she says.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has demanded Ali's "immediate and unconditional release." There's been no response. Weibel says, "To this day we still don't know why he was abducted and by whom."