WASHINGTON: The United States is working to get more assistance into famine-ravaged southern Somalia and is reassuring aid charity they will not be penalized for programs in regions controlled by al Shabaab rebels, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said under new guidelines, non-governmental organizations working in Somalia would be protected “in the event their operations may accidentally benefit al Shabaab.”
Toner said the change was intended “to send a strong message publicly to these groups that are working in the region that it’s OK for them to bring this kind of humanitarian assistance into areas that are controlled by al Shabaab.”
“They won’t be held accountable to U.S. laws that previously constrained them and (we will) ease some of the licensing requirements on them.”
The United States has placed al Shabaab on its official list of foreign terrorist organizations, a designation which forbids U.S. groups from providing “material support” to the group that controls large parts of the Horn of Africa nation.
The designation has complicated international aid efforts for Somalia, where a famine is spreading and some 3.7 million people are in urgent need of assistance in southern regions, many of them in areas controlled by al Shabaab.
Concerns over possible diversion of relief supplies to al Shabaab prompted a number of international aid organizations to suspend programs in southern Somalia in January 2010 and continue to constrain aid work, the U.S. officials said.