By Katy Migiro
09 Sep 2011, NAIROBI – Horn of Africa leaders on Friday rallied behind Somalia’s embattled government at a summit in Nairobi, supporting its efforts to oust Islamic militants from famine zones in the south of the war-torn country.
The presidents of Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia and South Sudan met to discuss solutions to drought which has left 13 million people across the region hungry. Somalia is at the epicentre of the crisis, with famine declared in parts of the south in July.
“If there was full security, we are sure that the people in the famine areas would have been saved,” said Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. “But due to the fact that that areas are controlled by al Shabaab, which does not allow food aid through, it’s allowed these people to suffer,”
Al Shabaab rebels, allied to al Qaeda, have refused to allow the United Nations to deliver food relief into the areas they control. The U.N. said 750,000 people face imminent death from starvation.
The U.N. said on Monday that the famine is likely to spread across all of southern Somalia by the end of the year.
In a communiqué at the end of the summit, the leaders called for the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to “extend the areas of control in which Somalis can live and prosper in safety.”
The internationally-backed TFG controls little more than the capital city, Mogadishu, which the rebels quit last month.
The summit also called upon the United Nations to bolster the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia from being passive “peace keeping” to pro-active “peace enforcement” and for U.N. troops to be deployed to boost their firepower.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called for the international community to support a plan to create “corridors of humanitarian assistance” to facilitate the delivery of food aid to people in Shabaab-controlled territory.
But observers are wary that this may be a pretext for military intervention. Ethiopian forces routed an Islamist administration in power in Mogadishu in early 2007 and it makes regular incursions into Somalia to protect its border.
Humanitarian corridors take months to set up and require a large number of troops.
“We should question whether humanitarian corridors will be of assistance in the current situation,” Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told AlertNet.
“We’ll see a bit more deterioration [in the famine situation] in the next month. But I think after that the indications are, through the International Committee of the Red Cross and others, that really quite a lot of assistance will be getting into the south.”
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