Militants fighting to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia have caused untold hardship in that troubled land. Military strikes, suicide bombings and the imposition of harsh rule in areas of the nation that they control have prolonged the turmoil that has gripped the country for more than two decades.
Drought and famine also are taking a tremendous toll, and here too the al-Shabaab rebels are making their presence felt. Amid a concerted international aid effort to provide needed food and medical assistance to the tens of thousands of Somalis affected by the crisis, al-Shabaab leaders recently imposed a ban on some United Nations and other aid groups. Militants seized and looted the offices of two groups operating in the southern Somali towns of Baidoa and Wajid.
Al-Shabaab's actions put at even greater risk the lives of four million Somalis who remain in need of emergency assistance and the 250,000 of those suffering from the ongoing famine. The attacks came as a United Nations study team determined that thanks to the work of international aid agencies famine conditions were beginning to ease in three hard-hit areas of Somalia. These expulsions may place these improvements at risk.
Al-Shabaab appears to see the relief groups as a threat, but the only purpose of these organizations is to save lives. The United States joins the international community in calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian principles and immediately allow these groups full and unhindered access to all those who need emergency aid in Somalia.