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Food aid reaches Baidoa on hostile highway in southern Somalia



An aid shipment from the Somali capital has reached the south-central town of Baidoa for the first time since the main highway linking the two cities was cut off by violence last June, a local official said Monday.

"Fifty-two trucks carrying food items, the first convoy to use the road, arrived in Baidoa on Sunday afternoon through the main highway," Bay regional governor Mohamed Aden Qalinle told AFP by telephone on Monday.

The 250-kilometre (155-mile) highway was cut after the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA) faction ended four years of occupation by armed militia loyal to south Mogadishu warlord Hussein Mohamed Aidid.

A local CARE official told AFP that it took only a few hours to transport the relief food from Mogadishu to Baidoa, a trip that a week by alternate routes.

Qalinle said the food, donated by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE, was escorted from Mogadishu by local gunmen and handed over to other waiting RRA militia at the town Wanlaweyn town, situated at the mid-point between Mogadishu and Baidoa.

"The opening of the road had not yet been agreed, but only aid agencies were given temporary permission for humanitarian reasons," Qalinle said.

The aid will be distributed mainly under a food-for-work scheme, but some badly affected people in the Bay and Bakol areas will receive outright food donations.

More than 500,000 people in the Bay, Bakol and Gedo regions of southern Somalia face an acute food shortage. In the nearby region of Lower Shabelle, people in the drought-stricken, war-ravaged town of Kurtunwarey have also been receiving food aid from the British agency ACCORD since relative peace returned to the town two months ago.

The town had been the scene of bloody hostilities between the RRA and Islamic court militia.


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