Growing insecurity in Somalia?s northern Puntland region is threatening to reduce humanitarian operations there. A UN statement says the international community is ?gravely concerned? about the insecurity and describes the situation as ?dire.?

Guillermo Bettocchi is the country representative for Somalia for the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in Puntland. 

?(The) major concern is security. We have had a series of incidents affecting humanitarian aid staff that have led us to the decision to withdraw the majority of the staff on the ground to review our security arrangements. The latest of these incidents happened two weeks ago when a very clearly marked UNHCR vehicle was attacked by militia group, armed people, and we considered it was attempted murder. Their car had 20 bullets in it. By (a) miracle nobody was hurt, but certainly this is an indication of the high level of insecurity for the staff. This follows a series of other incidents that have included abduction?of international staff for ransom (and) piracy,? he says.

Puntland authorities are being called upon to take action. Bettocchi says, ?We have had meetings with the president of Puntland here in Nairobi this past week. And we have agreed with them on a number of measures that need to be in place and we are going to work together with them to implement them. One of the main issues is precisely the engagement of the local communities because they have to understand that these incidents would only affect them in the sense that we reduce or stop our interventions. Those who will suffer are the local communities. And they are the ones that can indeed put some pressure on the criminals behind these acts to stop these kinds of incidents.?

He describes it as ?a process of engagement? involving the local government, ngos, community and religious leaders and the international community.