- AFP Photo

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations is investigating possible theft of food from supplies shipped to Somalia to counter the devastating famine that has killed tens of thousands, a spokesman said Monday.

The UN's World Food Programme will “suspend any parties found responsible” working within the agency, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

The UN has not given details of how much food has been diverted. But the announcement of the investigation came on the day that the UN Security Council made an urgent call for governments to respond to a 2.4-billion-dollar UN appeal to counter the drought in East Africa.

More than 12.4 million are at risk from starvation, according to the UN's emergency relief coordination agency.

“In response to reports of food aid being stolen, the World Food Programme says that through its monitoring systems, possible theft of food has been uncovered and is being investigated,” Haq told a briefing.

“The World Food Programme adds that it will investigate all alleged instances and suspend any parties found responsible.”

The agency has “rigorous monitoring and controls” in Somalia, but “due to security dangers and restrictions, humanitarian supply lines remain highly vulnerable to looting, attack and diversion by armed groups,” Haq said.

The 15-member Security Council expressed “serious concern” in a statement that the UN's 2.4-billion-dollar famine appeal remains less than half-funded.

UN agencies are struggling to get aid to parts of Somalia that are controlled by Islamist insurgents and the council warned “all parties and armed groups to ensure full, safe and unhindered access for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid.”

Amid rising concerns about Somalia's future with the famine adding to a crippling insurgency, the Security Council gave “strong” backing to UN efforts to help the transitional government battling to establish its authority.

Somalia political groups -- but not the insurgents -- are to meet next month to set out a government plan for the next 12 months with set targets for improving the performance of transitional federal institutions (TFIs).

“The members of the Security Council noted that future support to the TFIs would be contingent upon completion of the tasks in the roadmap,” said the statement.

Somalia has had no effective government since the downfall of Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

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