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Al-Shabab Returns Somali Refugees to Famine Zones

Internally displaced Somali men bury the body of a child who died of malnourishment in Hodan district, south of Mogadishu, Sept. 20, 2011.

A traditional leader in southern Somalia says al-Shabab militants are returning families to famine zones they fled.

Ugas Isaq Ibrahim Hassan told VOA's Somali Service the Islamist extremists began moving the families out of the al-Shabab-controlled town of Baidoa earlier this week.

Hassan said the al-Qaida-linked group gave the families 100 kilograms of rice, flour, cooking oil and dates before sending them back to surrounding districts including Dinsor, Qansahdhere, Ufurow, Bardale and Burkhkaba.

The local leader estimated up to 20,000 families fled to Baidoa in search of lifesaving aid and most of them remain there.

Hassan indicated some families were concerned they would be abandoned in their original villages without additional help. He said al-Shabab leaders vowed they would provide more aid.

Al-Shabab has banned most foreign-aid groups from operating in areas under its control.

The United Nations has declared six regions of south Somalia famine zones. Most of them are under al-Shabab control.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in more than six decades and the U.N. said more than 13 million people across the region need urgent aid.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.