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WFP Challenges Report About Stolen Somali Food Aid

The World Food Program is challenging a U.N. report that alleges as much as half of the WFP food destined for the needy in Somalia is being diverted to corrupt contractors and Islamist militants. WFP officials say there are a number of inaccuracies contained in the report.

In a statement e-mailed to VOA, a WFP official said the U.N. food agency would welcome an independent investigation into allegations that local WFP contractors and staff members are diverting food and selling them for profit, sometimes to al-Shabab, a radical Islamist movement that is believed to be proxy for al-Qaida in Somalia.

The food diversion allegations against the World Food Program first surfaced last year, prompting the United States to reduce its funding to the agency last year amid concerns that the aid might fall into the hands of extremists.

The WFP official says many of the issues raised in the U.N. Somalia Monitoring Group's report have already been addressed, while parts of the report contain inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims.

According to the World Food Program, the report, for example, alleges corruption inside the food agency by stating that last year it steered $200 million, or 80 percent of its transportation contracts, to only three Somali businessmen. The World Food Program says the three men received only $41.4 million, or 22 percent of the transportation contracts.

The World Food Program says while it did nothing wrong, it would stop working with the three transport contractors. The report alleges that the men are involved in arms trading.

The World Food Program says the U.N. report is also wrong in assuming that in 2008, more than 1,000 metric tons of food was diverted after what was described as a "staged looting incident" in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The World Food Program says the looting incident was not staged and the local contractor subsequently replaced all of the missing food.

The U.N. report, which has not been made public, underscores the problems aid agencies face in trying to provide assistance in the failed Horn of African state.

Two decades of war have left nearly three million people in Somalia dependent on donated food and other humanitarian supplies. But threats by radical insurgents, pirates, and other criminals make the country one of the most dangerous environments for aid workers. They say finding ways to deliver humanitarian aid safely and efficiently are becoming increasingly difficult.

Somalia State Minister for Internal Affairs Abdurashid Hiddig says that is no excuse for engaging in corrupt practices. He is urging U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate all aid agencies working in Somalia.

The minister says independent investigations should be expanded to include government and non-governmental organizations, as well as the World Food Program. He says the Somali people have yet to see the millions of dollars in aid that organizations say they are spending in Somalia every year.

Allegations of corruption are not limited to the World Food Program. The report also takes aim at officials in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland and in Somalia's U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government.

The report alleges senior government officials in Puntland are profiting from piracy off the coast of Somalia, and that ministers, parliament members, and diplomats in the Transitional Federal Government are auctioning off foreign visas to hundreds of Somalis, who are paying as much as $15,000 for each visa and a chance to flee to Europe and beyond.

Neither government has responded to the corruption allegations.