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Deadly Attack on UN Official Raises Fears Aid Groups May Scale Back Somalia Operations

Residents in Mogadishu, Somalia say they fear the apparent murder of the director of the U.N. Development Program there may cause aid groups to further scale down their operations and deepen the country's humanitarian crisis. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, a string of targeted attacks against humanitarian workers in Somalia is also threatening a peace accord.

Mogadishu resident Aden Abdullahi Mahdi says Somali communities are mourning the death of Osman Ali Ahmed, a Somali national who was killed by unknown gunmen late Sunday as he left a mosque with his son and brother in south Mogadishu.

Ahmed was shot at close-range several times in the head and chest. His brother was also shot and seriously wounded.

"We are very sorry because the people, they are starving very badly," Mahdi said. "The people are suffering. But we cannot stop the killings. All we can say is we are very, very, very sad about such killings, nothing else."

The attack follows last month's kidnapping of another top U.N. official in Mogadishu. The head of the U.N. refugee agency in the Somali capital, Hassan Mohamed Ali, was abducted from his home on June 21. Nine days later, a local aid worker helping U.N. agencies distribute food to internally displaced people was gunned down near Mogadishu's main Bakara market in what witnesses say was a targeted killing.

In a statement to the media, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden said Sunday's killing was, in his words, "particularly outrageous and worrying at this critical time, when the need for humanitarian assistance is rapidly increasing."

Nearly three million Somalians are estimated to be facing hunger because of insecurity, a prolonged drought, high inflation, and food shortages. The situation is especially critical in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, where an Islamist-led insurgency against the country's secular Ethiopia-backed government and Ethiopian troops has been raging for nearly 19 months.

Early last month, the government signed a peace deal with a moderate faction of the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, also known as ARS. The deal, signed in Djibouti, gave both sides one month to implement a cease-fire and called for the replacement of Ethiopian troops by a U.N. force within the next four months.

But hardliners in the alliance and a militant Islamist group called the Shabab have vehemently opposed the deal. That has prompted speculation among some Somalis that they may be working to undermine the truce and to discourage U.N. military intervention in Somalia.

A senior opposition member opposed to the Djibouti agreement, Jama Mohamed Khalib, says ARS fighters are not targeting aid workers.

"We do not believe it is our resistance forces. They are against the Ethiopian occupation," said Khalib. "Unless, of course, these humanitarian employees [have been] drawn into such problems, we regret that innocent people have been killed."

The United Nations has pledged to continue its humanitarian operations in Somalia, but says it needs more assistance from the Somali people to create a safe environment for aid and services to be delivered.