The United Nations World Food Program says it has suspended air operations in Somalia because of escalating violence in the Horn of Africa nation.

A spokesman for the aid group, Peter Smerdon, tells VOA that Somali government officials requested the suspension following what he calls "unexpected instability" in the area.

He said the fighting has also forced the agency to temporarily relocate some air-support staff from the Somali port of Kismayo to Nairobi.

Smerdon says the suspension of air operations is a "blow" to U.N. efforts to help nearly half-a-million people affected by recent flooding.

However, the agency plans to continue its ground assistance, with the help of more than 100 Somali U.N. employees who remain in the area.