Somalia's al-Shabab militants ban Islamic Relief aid

Internally displaced people wait for food aid The ban could affect 1.3 million people in al-Shabab areas

Islamist militants in Somalia have banned one of the last foreign aid agencies still working in areas under their control.

Al-Shabab says the UK-based Islamic Relief was covertly working on behalf of other aid groups already banned, including the UN World Food Programme.

Islamic Relief says it has yet to be officially informed of the decision.

Some 1.3 million people in need of food, clean water and health care may be put at risk, the group says.

'Persistent warnings'

Al-Shabab accused western charities of exaggerating the scale of last year's drought and passing information to foreign governments - charges the aid agencies denied.

The militants say they revoked Islamic relief's permit to work because it "has repeatedly failed, despite the persistent warnings, to comply with the operational guidelines".

"Islamic Relief was also found to be covertly extending the operations of banned organisations, particularly WFP," it posted on its Twitter account.

Map

The UN's WFP has had no access to areas controlled by al-Shabab since January 2010 while the International Committee of the Red Cross was expelled earlier this year.

Islamic Relief has been working in Somalia since 2006.

"None of our programmes in Somalia is funded by the World Food Programme," the group's regional director for east Africa, Iftikhar Shaheen, said in a statement.

"If this decision is confirmed, it could put many lives at risk, jeopardising our work providing food, water, sanitation, health care and support for income generation to 1.3 million people in Somalia," the statement added.

Somalia was hard hit last year by one of the worst droughts to affect east Africa.

Last month, al-Shabab withdrew from the southern town of Kismayo, its last major stronghold, after an attack by African Union forces.

But the group's fighters are still active in many rural areas of central and southern Somalia - and continues to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks in cities not under its control.

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