Islamic insurgents with alleged links to al-Qaeda looted two United Nations compounds in southern Somalia, and announced they will ban three UN agencies from operating in areas the militants control.
The United Nations confirmed that al-Shabaab militants had stolen emergency communication equipment from its compound in Baidoa city, and two cars and some furniture from its compound in the town of Wajid. No injuries were reported. The UN said Monday it was suspending its operations in Baidoa and continuing them in Wajid, which serves as the world body's hub for humanitarian aid in the region.
Al-Shabaab, which is battling to seize control of all of Somalia, currently controls large areas of Mogadishu, the capital, and the southern part of the country. The U.S. State Department says the group has links with al-Qaeda, but al-Shabab denies that.
Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years since clan warlords overthrew a brutal dictator and then turned on each other, plunging the Horn of Africa nation into chaos and anarchy.
Poverty is widespread, and the country's civilians rely heavily on the food, drinking water and medical treatment that relief agencies provide.
In May, al-Shabaab militiamen occupied and looted the UN children's agency's compound in the southern town of Jowhar, which had been an operational hub of the agency's humanitarian work in southern and central Somalia.
Over the past year, several other aid agencies — including the International Medical Corps, CARE International and Doctors Without Borders — have suspended their operations in southern and central Somalia following looting of their equipment, abduction of their staff by different groups or just the general violence.
Al-Shabab demands aid agencies register
Al-Shabaab issued a statement Monday saying it was banning three UN agencies — the UN Political Office for Somalia, the Development Program, and the Department for Safety and Security — for allegedly working against the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic state. The insurgents said the groups can no longer operate in areas al-Shabaab controls.
The insurgents said all aid agencies must register with al-Shabaab and that they also will be closed if the militants find them to be "working with an agenda against the Somali Muslim population and/or against the establishment of an Islamic state."
The UN responded with a statement saying: "The UN is reassessing the situation on the ground and is optimistic that the minimal conditions on the ground will be restored to allow the critical humanitarian work to resume in Baidoa and continue elsewhere in Somalia."
Marie Okabe, the UN deputy spokeswoman in New York, also told reporters the UN Political Office for Somalia "has not confirmed any official notification of that kind" from the insurgents.
Al-Shabaab and other Islamist groups have been fighting Somalia's UN-backed government since being chased from power years ago. The situation is complicated by the continual splintering and reforming of alliances and a web of clan loyalties.
Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in recent years, with journalists and aid workers often targeted. The lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast, making the adjacent waters some of the most dangerous in the world.