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UN: Aid Workers 'Not Backing Away' from Somalia

A top United Nations official says the world body is "not backing away" from Somalia following raids by insurgents on U.N. offices in the country.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator John Holmes said Tuesday that the U.N. hopes to continue operations in Somalia despite difficulties.

Al-Shabab insurgents raided U.N. compounds in the Somali towns of Baidoa and Wajid Monday. Holmes confirmed U.N. operations in Baidoa will be suspended until looted equipment can be replaced.

Fighting between the al-Qaida-linked insurgents and Somali government forces has made it increasingly difficult to distribute food and supplies to more than three million hungry Somalis.

Earlier Tuesday, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman appealed to Somalia's warring parties to respect basic humanitarian principles and to guarantee the safety of aid workers.

The agency says more than 223,000 people have left Somalia's capital since since fighting between Islamist militants and the government intensified in May.

Spokesman Ron Redmond said 20,000 Somali civilians have fled Mogadishu in the last two weeks alone.

He expressed concern about the huge numbers of displaced people seeking refuge at makeshift sites in the Afgooye corridor, southwest of the capital. He said the site lacks adequate shelter, sanitation facilities and clean drinking water.

The main insurgent groups, al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, launched an offensive against the government in Mogadishu on May 7. Fighting since then has killed hundreds of people.

On Monday, al-Shabab vowed to shut down the Somali operations of three U.N. agencies.

Somalia has endured nearly two decades of unrest and instability since the fall of the last stable government in 1991.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.