22 July 2011

Somalia: Norway Boosts Aid to Famine Victims, Seeks Talks With Al-Shabaab

Photo: Jennifer Brookland/IRIN
Dadaab refugee camp.

Addis Ababa — Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced that Norway would be sending more aid to famine victims in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, after also telling an Oslo newspaper that he thinks the latest crisis in Africa’s Horn suggests it’s time to start talking with Somalian militia group Al-Shabaab.

“Up to now there’s been a policy of no contact with the groups making up the Al-Shabaab militia,” Støre told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I think it’s time to re-evaluate that policy.”

Al-Shabaab is widely regarded as an Islamist terrorist group that’s been fighting to overthrow the government in Somalia. Some compare it to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Støre noted that it now appears to control large areas that are among the worst hit by the famine.

Støre called for using the hunger crisis to review the political situation in Somalia. “This is a country that has been one of the world’s foremost examples of a state breakdown,” he said. “We see symptoms of the crisis in the drought and lack of food but the main problem is politics. In some way or another we must find a means of reconciliation.”

He’s decided to send one of his state secretaries, Gry Larsen, to the area in the hopes of having talks with responsible politicians. “A new government is being established in Mogadishu,” Støre said. “We want to urge them to put internal conflicts aside and focus on the catastrophe facing the country.”

The United Nations announced earlier this week that more than 10 million people in the area lack food. “This is a crisis that’s much bigger than we thought and which hits the entire region,” Støre told Dagsavisen. “This includes neighboring countries that have isolated and invaded Somalia for years.

“Norway will be open to support a regional panel with initiatives among the affected countries,” he said, adding that international cooperation on dealing with Somalia hasn’t been good enough.

Støre also issued a challenge to the Somalian-Norwegian community in Norway, which is also divided into various factions. The famine in their homeland, he said, should result in more cooperation to serve common interests.

Norway will now be sending NOK 263 million (nearly USD 50 million) in aid to the famine areas after boosting the amount by NOK 30 million on Thursday. The money will be funneled through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Thousands of refugees from Somalia are arriving at refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya every day.

 Source: Views and News from Norway

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