Displaced Somalis receive food aid distributed at a camp in southern Mogadishu's Bermuda neighbourhood. - AFP (File Photo)

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged al Qaeda-linked Shebab militants Thursday to stop blocking aid to famine-hit areas of Somalia and allow it to reach masses of starving people.

Flanked by Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Clinton told reporters it was especially “tragic” that the militants were preventing aid from reaching the most vulnerable, children, during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.

“I call on Al-Shebab to allow assistance to be delivered in an unfettered way throughout the area they currently control so that as many lives as possible can be saved,” the chief US diplomat said.

The United States said Tuesday it would support relief work in areas of Somalia held by the Shebab, easing restrictions as despair grows over a famine that has killed thousands.

US officials said they were maintaining sanctions against the militia, which controls some of the worst-hit parts of southern Somalia, but would fund reputable groups that take the risk to bring food into Shebab territory.

In reply to a reporter's question, Baird said there were no plans to take military action against Shebab.

“While we are deeply concerned about Al-Shebab's actions in Somalia, at this time we are not contemplating military action. Obviously both countries have an experience from that some 16, 17, 18 years ago.”

The United States led an UN-backed force that included troops from Canada and many other countries as it entered Somalia in December 1992 in a bid to secure humanitarian aid to people suffering from civil war and famine.

In the following months, US troops suffered particularly heavy casualties in fighting with Somali warlords.

In a bid to better organize the delivery of food, Clinton said she has spoken with Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as other US officials have spoken with their Kenyan counterparts.

US officials are working with UN and other international relief officials, she added.

According to the UN Children's Fund, around 2.3 million children in the Horn of Africa, including parts of Somalia, are acutely malnourished and half a million are at death's door because of the drought and famine.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons said only half of the dollar 2 billion that the United Nations has said is needed to provide emergency assistance for famine relief in the Horn of Africa has been committed.

He said the United States is the largest single donor, pledging dollar 459 million.


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